Why These Aussies Went to Tiananmen Square to Expose a Human Rights Atrocity

'The sanctity of life is more important than anything'
July 20, 2020 Updated: July 20, 2020

While Hong Kongers continue their fight for freedom against Beijing’s encroachment, almost two decades earlier a group of Aussies fought another battle inside the heart of Beijing—in Tiananmen Square.

Translated as “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” Tiananmen Square is far from heavenly under Communist Party rule, and has conversely been dubbed by some Chinese as the “Tiananmen Slaughter Square,” following the massacre of 10,000 civilians on June 4, 1989.

Knowing the risks, a group of Australians were among some who made the journey to Tiananmen Square in early 2002 with hopes to appeal to the Chinese regime to stop the persecution of Falun Dafa—a popular meditation discipline rooted in Buddhist tradition, also referred to as Falun Gong—and raise awareness worldwide of the then unreported persecution of its followers.

Denice and Stuart, who are mother and son, both found Falun Dafa in 2000. Soon after giving the spiritual practice ago, which had only been introduced to the public in China for the first time ever a decade prior, the two experienced dramatic health improvements.

At the time, Stuart was 20 years old, weighed 55 kilograms, and had been suffering from multiple ailments prior to practicing. But some six months after practicing, “I wasn’t reacting to things like fly spray, perfume, and deodorant and paint, even sugar,” Stuart told The Epoch Times. “All of a sudden I wasn’t getting headaches or migraines or I wasn’t feeling nauseous, because I was allergic to dairy as well as wheat, which is [in] quite a lot of the Western diet.”

Epoch Times Photo
Stuart Martin posing for a photo in Tiananmen Square on March 7, 2002. (Courtesy of Denice Johnson)

Denice meanwhile had been battling with emphysema, a lung condition she had for many years. A brief walk to the nearby post box to post a letter would previously see her out of breath, owing to the condition. But today, after practicing Falun Dafa, she is able to play the French Horn in a marching band, and has performed in lengthy parades around Australia and even in the sweltering heat of Hong Kong in summer.

“When I found Falun Dafa, within a short amount of time it cured all my illnesses without me even knowing,” says Denice. “I had a fibroid cyst, anxiety, and depression, and they all just left.”

During those early days of practice, Denice and Stuart had become acquainted with former Australian Olympian, Jan Becker, at Flagstaff Gardens on the outskirts of Melbourne’s CBD, where people met weekly to perform Falun Dafa’s slow-moving standing exercises and sitting meditation together.

Swimming in the freestyle relay, Jan won silver for Australia in the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. She found the practice in 1999 and also experienced a noticeable improvement to her health after starting the practice. But it was the moral teachings of the practice that really resonated with her.

Falun Dafa is based on three principles: Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance.

Jan says she was already “a very honest person, straight to the point,” but “probably too honest,” she admits, saying she “didn’t show enough compassion.

“If I am going to be honest, I’ve also got to be compassionate. And tolerant,” she said.

“Sometimes, I’ve had definite views from what was right and what was wrong. But through doing the practice of Falun Dafa, it really makes you think a lot more and be more considerate of other people.”

An Unreported Genocide

Little did Denice, Stuart, and Jan realise that fellow adherents of the spiritual practice they had just taken up were subject to severe persecution in China, all because the free-to-learn and very effective meditation discipline became too popular for the Chinese Communist Party’s liking.

According to estimates, there were 80-100 million people in China practicing Falun Dafa in the late 90s.

In 1999, then Chinese leader Jiang Zemin began a genocidal campaign to eradicate Falun Dafa practitioners.

China’s entire state-run media apparatus went into overdrive, incessantly producing false and slanderous propaganda to turn public opinion against Falun Dafa. With a highly-censored internet and no access to true information about Falun Dafa, the Chinese people knew only the demonising reports that state media had been inundating them with 24-7.

Epoch Times Photo
Police detain a Falun Gong practitioner on Tiananmen Square as a crowd gathers around in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2000. (AP Photo/Chien-min Chung)

Denice and Stuart learned of the arbitrary mass arrests, torture, and killing of their fellow practitioners in China.

“I didn’t understand how a government could actually treat their people like that,” Denice said. “I really felt like I had to do something, I couldn’t just sit by. I was telling a lot people in Australia about Falun Dafa and the persecution.”

Jan, too, was shocked at the regime’s brutality.

“When I found out what was happening, I could not believe it was happening. That’s why I had no hesitation in going to Tiananmen Square. Didn’t think about it at all, it was just ‘Yes, I’m going,’” Jan said. “The sanctity of life is more important than anything.”

Unfurling Banners on Tiananmen Square

The much-anticipated day was March 7, 2002. Everyone arrived almost at the same time, with a couple unfurling their banners a fraction early, prompting the others to rush in soon after. Jan ran in producing an Olympic flag, with Denice and Stuart not far behind.

When asked how long she managed to hold her banner up, Jan responded: “Probably only 15-20 seconds. But enough for people to see, and I was calling out afterwards. Police then grabbed it off me, pulled me around a bit, and put me over near the police van.”

Denice and Stuart moved to the southern side of the square and sat down to meditate. Another practitioner, Marilyn, who was accompanying them, pulled out a concealed banner from her top to display to onlookers. Her banner read “The World Needs Truth-Compassion-Forbearance. Falun Dafa is Good.”

Within minutes, crowds gathered around their peaceful protest, many taking photos.

“We were there approximately 5 minutes, but it felt like half-an-hour,” recalls Denice.

Epoch Times Photo
A Chinese policeman approaches a Falun Gong practitioner at Tiananmen Square in Beijing as he holds a banner with the Chinese characters for “truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance,” the core tenets of Falun Gong. (via Minghui.org)

Military-clad personnel then swarmed in on the three, they recalled.

They were all hustled away and hauled onto busses.

Beaten and Spat on in Detention

Upon arrival at the detention centre, the stark contrast between police in China versus police in a free society was brutally apparent, Denise told The Epoch Times.

“When they took each practitioner off the bus, they were beating and punching,” she said, adding that she tried to hold one practitioner back so he wouldn’t get beaten up. But a police officer grabbed her hair, removing a chunk of it from her head. Her arm was then yanked and twisted by another officer to forced her to release the other practitioner.

“We were taken in and we were questioned, and screamed at, and spat on. They were really vicious,” she said.

During their 23-hour-long detention, police tried to strip search them all. Not all complied.

Jan said she was interrogated for 5.5 hours by five police officers. She answered all their questions and debunked some of the misunderstandings the officers had. The officers were under the false impression that practitioners never work and just read books, which “disrupted our society,” Jan recalls the officer saying.

In the end, they were released after being pressured to sign a Chinese statement that they didn’t understand, in exchange for their belongings.

With the exception of his passport, Stuart said “I never got any of my things back.”

The team were then put on a plane and sent back to Australia where media awaited.

Epoch Times Photo
Australian Falun Dafa practitioners speak with the media in Melbourne on March 8, 2002. (Courtesy of minghui.org)

‘What We Wanted to Have happened’

Stuart’s friends, who previously didn’t believe the Chinese regime could be so unfathomable in persecuting such peaceful meditators, now believed him when they saw the reports aired on the news. All major Australian newspapers and TV stations produced pieces on the Australians’ trip to Tiananmen Square.

“What we wanted to have happened, happened,” said Stuart of the media exposure.

The trio were interviewed in a documentary “Protest at Heaven’s Gate,” in which they detailed their first-hand accounts of protesting in Tiananmen Square.

“When I saw that documentary, when I watched that, 20 years down the track, I just started crying and shaking uncontrollably,” Jan said. “I think it just really hit me that it’s still happening, after all that time. I was shaking for half an hour when I watched it.”

“I feel for the people, the practitioners in China, what they’ve endured is horrendous. And I really look forward to the day it ends, when it’s over for them, so they can be free to do the beautiful practice of Falun Dafa.”

Chinese Police ‘Meet’ More Aussies

Just days after the Australian protesters arrived back home, another Aussie pair made the same trip to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“As soon as we walked onto Tiananmen Square I think they were eyeballing us,” Jarrod Hall, a video producer, told The Epoch Times.

“We were being followed by men who were clearly supposed to be undercover, with mobile phones on their belts, and it was really obvious they were cops.”

Like the previous group, Jarrod and Emma Hall, who also practice the spiritual discipline Falun Dafa, felt compelled by an internal sense of justice to appeal to the Chinese regime to end the persecution.

What’s more, misinformation about the practice spun by the Chinese regime’s propaganda arm was being further circulated by uninformed overseas media.

Emma Hall, a business owner, said her then-housemates saw some misinformation about Falun Dafa on TV. She was taken aback by their comments and tried to explain her own experiences of mind-body improvement through the practice.

“I was explaining to them—‘it’s really good and it’s a good exercise,’” she said. “[Falun Dafa] definitely helped me become a kinder person and being less stressed-out kind of person.”

While in Tiananmen Square, the pair had a window of mere seconds to protest before being arrested.

“[The police] were zeroing in on us,” Jarrod said.

“The crew before us had only just come back—so only a few days before they had a bunch of Australians.”

Both Jarrod and Emma were detained and questioned by the police but were not formally arrested. The pair were in China for only one day.

“I feel proud that [we] went and [we] had the courage to do it in that place, Tiananmen Square, where the massacre and all the Falun Gong practitioners before us had been arrested and dragged away.

“I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been for the Chinese people who did that.”

Epoch Times Photo
Emma & Jarrod Hall’s protest in Tiananmen Square, which was reported in Mingpao newspaper on April 11, 2002. (Courtesy of Emma Hall)

Chinese nationals who protest on Tiananmen Square don’t have the safety net of foreign citizenship, and may never be seen again.

According to the China Tribunal, prisoners of conscience—in particular large numbers of Falun Dafa practitioners—are incarcerated en-masse in Chinese jails and are being killed for their healthy organs. The Communist Party’s crime of forced organ harvesting has reportedly been practiced for a substantial period of time.

“Those innocents were killed by doctors simply because they believed, for example, in truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance and lived lives of healthy exercise and meditation and because the way they lived was seen as dangerous to the interests and objectives of the totalitarian state of the People’s Republic of China,” reads a March 2020 statement from the Tribunal, which was chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC.

Watch Next

“Protest at Heaven’s Gate”

(Provided with permission by the producers.)