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A Tale of Two Cities: Deportation and Rescue

Russians Violate UNHCR Regulations In Deporting Falun Gong Refugees

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, on March 28, 2007, the Russian Federation violated international treaties by repatriating two legitimate refugees—Ma Hui and her 8-year-old daughter, both recognized by the UNHCR—back to China where they might be subjected to torture and persecution for their practice of Falun Gong.

Illegal abduction by Russian officials

According to the Russian radio station "Echo," on March 28, after Ma Hui and her daughter had finished their breakfast, a group of tall men dressed in black broke into the house and quietly abducted them. They were taken directly to the St. Petersburg Pulkovo No. 2 International Airport. After waiting for more than 10 hours that evening, they were repatriated on flight FV-215 by a Russian female police officer and a Chinese official. At 19:50 local time, the plane left Russia for Beijing. When they heard about the incident, several citizens who had lived through Russia’s communist days commented that this incident reminded them of the KGB kidnapping tactics used by the Soviets to deal with dissidents.

According to an eyewitness, six or seven people in black clothing climbed over a wall to enter the house; they cut the telephone and computer wires, and shouted at the mother and the child to follow them. Ms. Ma’s husband, Li, recalled the events of the 28th: "After being notified by a friend at 10:30 a.m., I immediately informed the United Nations Red Cross officials in St. Petersburg and went to the city immigration office, where I was told that all the office personnel had gone to the airport to carry out the repatriation and that Ma Hui and Jing Jing were being detained in the airport waiting for the evening flight to Beijing. However, no matter who we asked, the officials denied knowing anything about Ma and our daughter."

Reaction

"The UNHCR is concerned about their forcible deportation, which is in violation of the Russian Federation’s international obligations and of the Russian Federation Law on Refugees," said a UNHCR press release.

Protests against the Russian deportation were registered worldwide, in Toronto, New York, Washington D.C., and several other cities. "To take a woman and her 8-year-old child and illegally send them back to China, knowing that they will face persecution: It’s unconscionable, it’s disgraceful, and it’s shameful," said actor-writer-director Michael Mahonen, who was representing the Falun Dafa Association of Canada at the Toronto protest. "It’s a real big step backward for Russia in terms of trying to better themselves as a democratic nation."{mospagebreak}

The U.N. Red Cross representative said, "Not only did the Russian government violate its own laws by repatriating Ma Hui, it has also violated the European Human Rights Treaty as well as the International Refugee Repatriation Treaty. Furthermore, it is usual practice to inform a United Nations Red Cross representative and the lawyer, and a signature must be obtained from family members before repatriation." The UNHCR has also requested that the Russian government provide an explanation for this incident.

To date, Ms. Ma’s exact whereabouts remain unknown since arriving in China.

Teenage Student Saved from Abduction at JFK Airport

CCP delegation holds teenage Falun Gong practitioner captive

On the morning of February 10, 14-year-old Youran Zhao, a junior high school student from China, was abducted in Boston by a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) delegation visiting the United States after attempting to flee with her aunt in Boston. According to sources, Ms. Zhao disappeared sometime between Saturday evening and Sunday noon after declaring her intent to seek political asylum. Zhao practices Falun Gong-and in China, Falun Gong practitioners are subject to severe human rights violations. Despite her young age, should she be returned to China she would certainly face persecution.

Ms. Zhao sought to break from the group she was traveling with and enter into the custody of her aunt, Ms. Xiufen Zhang, a resident of New Jersey. Youran Zhao’s parents had authorized Ms. Zhang to serve as her legal guardian and assume custody of her in the United States, where she would be free of the threat of persecution. Zhao’s parents had also granted Ms. Zhang power of attorney over their daughter. However, when Boston police intercepted the travel group on February 11, Ms. Zhao was nowhere to be found. The Chinese group’s leaders refused to reveal information on Zhao’s whereabouts to the police, sparking fears that Chinese authorities were holding her captive and seeking to hastily remove her to China.

Attempted abduction back to China

In an interview with Zhao after her rescue, she told how she was taken from Boston to New York’s JFK Airport on Sunday morning. At 3 p.m., the two delegation leaders accompanied her to the boarding entrance of Air China flight CA982. Her passport and boarding pass were always in the hands of these two delegation leaders who would escort her back to China. As the seat belt buckled around her waist, she completely lost hope of ever reuniting with her relatives and obtaining freedom.{mospagebreak}

The flight was originally scheduled to depart at 3:30 p.m. but was delayed. She and her captors sat onboard waiting for takeoff. A few minutes after boarding, two police officers boarded the cabin and approached Zhao and her escorts, informing them that one of their seats actually belonged to another passenger. Mysteriously, one seat had been double-booked. When the officers discovered that Ms. Zhao did not want to return to China and was being taken against her will, they escorted both her and her captors off the plane and she was freed.

Five or six hours later she finally saw her aunt, who had traveled from Boston. She left the airport with her aunt and was reunited with the rest of her family in the United States.

Concern that her family in China could face persecution

Zhao and her family have been practicing Falun Gong since 1998. After the persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999, the family was forbidden to practice outdoors. Although she is now free, she remains very worried for her family’s security back in China, especially for her grandmother. Ms. Zhao is concerned that they might be arrested and brainwashed, like so many other Falun Gong practitioners in China, because of her U.S. visit.

She was told that everything would be all right once she got back to China, and that she could even go abroad again as an international student, but her aunt believes that this is a deceptive statement. Even when her niece had approached classmates for help, no one would support her.

In an unfamiliar environment, students naturally place faith in their teachers, looking to them for guidance and instruction. Instead of protecting young Zhao, however, this Chinese delegation kept her from eating for several hours and even kidnapped her to gain favor with the CCP.

According to Mr. Yonglin Chen, a former Chinese Embassy official who defected in 2005, Chinese authorities have previously kidnapped foreign nationals and taken them back to China to be dealt with. Communist authorities consider defections and asylum-seekers a blow to the Party’s esteem.

Can Sun is a correspondent for Chinascope.

From the Editor

A "nail house" in Chongqing Municipality has grabbed the headlines and become a hot topic in online forums. A poignant picture captures how a house stands alone in the middle of a huge property redevelopment area, where everything around it has been knocked down. For more than two years, the owners have refused to relocate and have resisted all forms of pressure applied by land planners and local officials to demolish the house.

"Nail house" is a Chinese slang term for describing precisely that situation—as if the house is nailed to the ground and difficult to move. When the National People’s Congress enacted the "Property Law" in its 2007 annual conference in March, it pushed the "nail house" issue even further into the spotlight. All of a sudden, the Chongqing Nail House became a symbolic test for the validity of the newly passed Property Law.

The Property Law is designed to provide legal protection for individual property ownership, but it has been given mixed reviews by the public. Many are skeptical of its intent to protect the ordinary individual. Instead, they see it as protection for the privileged who acquired their property through shady channels. Protecting a "nail house" as an individual is indeed a daunting task. In most cases, refusing a relocation order often incurs dire consequences such as attacks by thugs hired by the developers and local authorities or even jail terms. In the end, the house is often simply bulldozed without permission. In recent years, violence related to the demolition of property and land development has been rampant, and suicide and other tragedies have arisen from angry homeowners’ reactions to seeing the culmination of their life savings destroyed. A survey of more than 1,000 petitioners who went to Beijing showed that 10 percent of them were related to the loss of property due to forced relocation, reflecting the magnitude of the problem and the need for the proper protection of private property.

Given the circumstances, it’s understandable that the Chongqing Nail House is gaining such public support and media attention, but it is not indicative of the broader situation. In a nation where even the most basic constitutional rights are not guaranteed, one can hardly expect a property law to have a tangible impact overnight, for there are too many interests-both government and private—involved in the land development business. In all likelihood, we will continue to find many more victims of relocation—related violence than the unlikely heroes of Chongqing, unless all homeowners stand together or the authorities start enforcing the law in earnest.

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