2 Falun Gong Practitioners Deported Despite UN Protection

Cambodian authorities have deported two Chinese members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement who were under UN protection in Phnom Penh, police sources said on Tuesday.

The forced deportation of Falun Gong practitioners Li Guojun, 46, and his wife Zhang Xinyi, 39, follows the recent disappearance of dissident Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Tri Luc, 45, who was also under protection here from the UN High Commissioner for Re­fugees.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, combines meditation with slow-moving exercise, but its teachings have been branded an “evil cult” by Beijing and thousands of practitioners have been arrested in China in recent years.

In a statement issued Monday, the New York-based Falun Dafa Information Center blasted the Cambodian government’s deportation of the couple as a violation of international refugee treaties.

The couple, who had worked as Chinese teachers in Phnom Penh since 1999, were being held at a detention center in China’s Hu­nan Province since their de­por­tation from Cambodia on Aug 9, the information center said.

“This is a blatant and direct violation of their official status as UN refugees,” said Falun Dafa spokes­man Erping Zhang.

“This is precisely the situation the United Nations High Commis­sioner for Refugees was established to prevent. Immediate action is necessary,” he said.

A Phnom Penh police chief confirmed the pair were arrested earlier this month in the Prampi Makara district of the city before their deportation.

“This is a true story, but very secret,” the police chief said, on condition of anonymity.

“They were arrested because they received information from Tai­wan and were a link for the Falun Gong to spread their message,” he said. “They were Falun Gong activists. Falun Gong is the religion that betrays China and it is banned.”

Elizabeth Kirton, UNHCR officer-in-charge in Cambodia, de­clined to comment on the deportations of the Falun Gong members or the disappearance last month of the dissident Vietnamese Bud­dhist monk Thich Tri Luc.

The Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau claimed earlier this month that Thich Tri Luc, who was granted refugee status by the UN, was kid­napped in Cambodia and repatriated to Vietnam.

The UNHCR office in Phnom Penh cannot comment on any is­sue related to refugees in Cam­bodia, Kirton said.

Cambodian police and the Fa­lun Dafa Information Center stated that the couple’s links to the sect were discovered when they received Falun Gong material sent to them by a friend in Tai­wan.

They were fired from the Chi­nese school and encountered trouble at the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh when they applied for passport extensions, the center said.

In July, they received “person of concern” status from the UN in Phnom Penh but were arrested on Aug 2 by police and deported to China on Aug 9.

An official at the Chinese Em­bassy said Tuesday he was not aware of any deportations. “As I know, there are no Falun Gong suspects here,” the official said.

Chan Soveth, deputy head of monitoring at local human rights group Adhoc, said his organization was concerned at the disappearance of the Vietnamese monk and the Falun Gong followers, news of which was reported to the organization by police sources.

“When the two are sent home, the government might arrest and put in jail,” Chan Soveth said.

“They have a right to escape from intimidation and Cambodia should defend them,” he said. “This is the right of the person and the government must respect.”

Om Yentieng, adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and head of government’s human rights committee, said he knew nothing about the deportations.

Cambodia’s long relationships with Hanoi has facilitated secret deportations in the past, including several suspected members of the anti-government Free Vietnam Movement and over 500 ethnic minority Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam’s Central Highlands who fled to Cambodia.

Phnom Penh has also long de­ferred to Beijing’s policies, most recently over the decision not to invite the revered Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to a world Buddhist conference in Phnom Penh later this year.

Cambodia’s policy toward Chi­na did not allow for the Dalai Lama to attend the third World Buddhist Conference which will draw some 1,500 participants from 16 Asian countries, officials said.

The Dalai Lama attended the first world conference in 1998 in Japan but was not invited to the second conference in Thailand in 2000.


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