As Chinese families gather to celebrate the New Year across the UK this weekend, one woman has been left distraught after her family were terrorised by police in China.
Jane Liang, from Nottingham, England, heard news from her relatives in China that her sister and brother-in-law had been arrested by police in Guangzhou city on fabricated charges.
Ms Wenjian Liang and Mr Zhiyong Lin both practice Falun Gong, a popular spiritual movement which was banned by the Communist Party in 1999. Conservative estimates suggest that around 100,000 Falun Gong practitioners are currently detained across China.
Ms Liang said that she was worried for their safety because she knew that torture was often applied to Falun Gong practitioners in order to elicit a statement of 'repentance'. There are records of some 3,000 Falun Gong practitioners who have died because of police violence, though experts say the actual number may be over 10,000.
“I'm very upset,” said Ms Liang, adding that her remaining family members in China were also worried.
“They feel helpless because the whole state machine has been involved in persecuting Falun Gong,” she said.
“The police can do anything they want and everyone feels powerless. The government can set up any new law it wants to tailor its needs.”
The couple was detained on charges of “illegal gathering”, a law brought in since 1999 which prohibits Falun Gong practitioners from meeting. In 2000, Wenjian Liang was detained while she had lunch in a park with other Falun Gong practitioners. She was then sentenced to two years in a labour camp without trial.
On February 10th plain clothes police raided the house of Mrs Wenjian Liang and Mr Zhiyong Lin, arresting them and five or six others on the charge. They were taken to a local police station and were later transferred to the Fanyu Detention Centre of Guangdong Province police station.
At present, their whereabouts and wellbeing are unknown. The couple's 12-year-old daughter managed to escape arrest and was later taken in by a relative.
Outside China, Liang and her husband Dr Li Shao are contacting their representatives to seek help. MEP Roger Hermer has already replied, offering full support and relaying a letter he immediately sent to China's ambassador to the European Union protesting the couple's arrest.
“We are very concerned of Wenjian and her husband's well-being,” says the letter. “We would urge you to assure their humane treatment and soonest release.”