Sunday, February 17, 2002

Local practitioners of Falun Gong got together at the Chinese Cultural Center in April 2001. Martin Larsson, shown here leading the group, was one of 35 Westerners held by Chinese police after unfurling a Falun Gong banner in Tiananmen Square.

Bush China visit
strikes personal note
for isle Falun Gong

A BYUH student was arrested
and expelled from China last year

By Mary Adamski

If President Bush comments on human rights issues during his visit to China, it will strike a personal chord for a local Falun Gong member who was arrested and ejected from that country in November.

Martin Larsson, a Brigham Young University-Hawaii student, was one of 35 Westerners grabbed and held by Chinese police after they unfurled a Falun Gong banner in Tiananmen Square Nov. 20.

The incident was the first time people from Western countries went to the central Beijing public grounds to "manifest Falun Gong," said Larsson, 30, a Swedish citizen who has been in Hawaii for four years. In a similar incident Thursday, Chinese officials detained several foreigners, accusing them of violating laws barring illegal assemblies and "evil cults."

"This was something that has been in my heart for two years," said Larsson. He said he and the other Falun Gong went to the square with the intention of demonstrating that their movement is peaceful and showing the Chinese that there are Falun Gong followers outside their country.

The 15-by-4-foot banner they unfurled read "Truthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance" in English and Chinese. Those are the bywords of the discipline which combines tai chi-like movement, meditation and reading of teachings by its creator Li Hongzhi. "We use the term cultivation practice. It refines all aspects of you: mentally, spiritually, physically," Larsson said.

On the fifth day of his visit, Larsson met the others, who were traveling separately, at a time and place they all knew.

"I don't want to disclose how we communicated," he said. "These people were not troublemakers, not like they wanted to create fame for themselves. They came because they have benefited from the practice and wanted to show the truth about people who practice."

There were journalists from the United States, Canada and Germany along, he said, and they were taking photographs and videos when the group sat together and unrolled the banner.

Larsson said that in less than a minute, police surrounded them and buses were on the scene to haul them away to a nearby police station.

Larsson said the detainees were massed together in a basement cell about 8 feet by 15 feet, then taken out to be interrogated separately. After hours at the police station, they were taken by bus to a hotel near the Beijing airport and held in two rooms.

"They tried to have you renounce your belief. They wanted you to sign a paper written in Chinese. What they want is my signature on that paper to say things that is not true so they can use it for their own propaganda. I said I don't read Chinese, translate or I won't sign it. They got irritated.

"Two more senior police came in and said I need to sign. They jumped me... strikes to the body, none to the face, they tried to bend my arm behind back and grabbed my hair, pulled my head back ... So they could get good photo. I made a face of pain so the photo was useless."

Larsson said the Westerners resisted being photographed by police because "they put us on a blacklist. They want your photo, name, phone number ... they want you to write a defaming statement. If you are Chinese, you may die or be put in a labor camp. But as a Westerner, they don't go as far."

"What's amazing is that none of these people know what Falun Gong is about. I feel the questioning turned out to our benefit. We got chance to explain we were not there to make trouble, we came with a genuine purpose," Larsson said.

The next morning, they were held at the airport and put on commercial flights to various destinations. Larsson was one of eight people sent to Sweden.

Local Falun Gong members -- there are only about 20 regulars -- gather from 6:30 to 9 a.m. Saturdays on Magic Island in Ala Moana Park and Sundays in Kapiolani Park near the archery range. Information on the international movement may be seen at

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