LOS ANGELES—Friends and supporters of Wang Zhiwen say he has been severely mistreated for the past 17 years in China. Just days ago his bid to leave behind that persecution was denied, as he was prevented from traveling outside China with his daughter and her husband.
A group supporting Wang gathered in front of the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles on Aug. 12 to tell the public his story—a story that is strikingly similar to the experiences of several people who attended the event.
Wang practices Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, a meditation discipline that includes five sets of exercises and moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. He was one of over 70 million Chinese people who could be seen in parks throughout China in the 1990s practicing Falun Gong.
When then-regime leader Jiang Zemin decided to persecute Falun Gong practitioners in 1999, Wang Zhiwen was one of the first practitioners to be sentenced to prison.
“[Wang] was sentenced by a nationally televised show trial with three other members of the Falun Dafa Association. They were all sentenced to very long jail terms,” said Paul Wu, a representative of the Falun Dafa Association in Los Angeles.
“I still remember. He was a very, very handsome man at that time,” said Falun Gong practitioner Li Shuying, who was in the courtroom when he was sentenced.
However, during his 15 years in jail, Wang was subjected to inhumane torture in an attempt to make him renounce his beliefs. Both of his collarbones were broken, toothpicks were forced under his fingernails, and he lost all his teeth due to repeated beatings.
Li said she was also arrested and sentenced to three years in the same prison. One day she saw him again.
“I couldn’t recognize him anymore, because he became bald and he lost a lot of his teeth,” she said.
This week, his daughter Danielle Wang and her husband returned to New York after their unsuccessful attempt to bring him to the United States.
Although they were harassed by security agents while they were in China, all of Wang’s paperwork was processed and in order, and everything appeared to be going according to plan.
However, on Aug. 6, just before they crossed the Hong Kong border, officials abruptly invalidated Wang’s passport, forcing him to remain behind.
“We’re here to tell the Chinese authorities to give Zhiwen Wang back his passport that he lawfully obtained, but that the Chinese immigration officials deliberately destroyed,” said Albert Roman, who hosted the Los Angeles event. “We’re here today to tell the Chinese Communist Party to stop harassing Zhiwen Wang and let him leave China to reunite with his family in the United States.”
Although the Aug. 12 event in Los Angeles was focused on Wang Zhiwen, participants pointed out that his case is not isolated in China.
“Many people are still suffering in the jails, being tortured for their belief in truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. So Wang Zhiwen is only a representative of all of those Falun Gong practitioners in China that have been suffering brutal persecution,” said Wu.
Li Shuying testified that before she was able to come to the United States, she had lost count of how many times she was illegally detained and arrested in China.
Local practitioner Chen Liyan said both she and her husband were arrested in 2001 in Tianjin city, and her husband underwent nearly unspeakable torture. He was chained to the floor, his legs forced to do the splits for 29 days in a solitary confinement cell. He was not allowed to use the restroom, so he went on a hunger strike.
One day he passed out, and officials were unable to revive him, so he was sent back to a normal prison cell.
“After he recovered and was able to walk again, the police started to torture him again,” said Chen. This repeated several times. At one point, prison guards dragged her husband up and down flights of stairs from the first to the fourth floor.
Finally, he was released from jail, only to be arrested and imprisoned again. He died 10 days later from the torture. Chen requested authorities not to cremate his body, but they cremated him against her wishes.
“They told me that if I tell the public that my husband did not die of torture, they would release me ahead of time,” she said. “I said no to them. I told them that I would definitely disclose to the public how my husband was killed by them…and once I leave China, I would definitely speak out and let everyone know how they torture and persecute Falun Gong practitioners.”
After overcoming nearly insurmountable challenges to reach the United States, Chen and other supporters stood tall on Friday at the Los Angeles Chinese Consulate, even amidst their grief.
They are finally able to speak out for their friends and family in China.