Ten years ago, Zhou Deyong was trying to rescue his wife who was jailed by Chinese authorities over her faith. Now, his wife and son are doing the same for him.
Every day, You Ling shows up at the Chinese Consulate in New York holding a sign calling for her husband’s release. The 62-year-old geological engineer was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for practicing Falun Gong, a meditation discipline that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has brutally suppressed since 1999.
The couple’s son, Florida resident Zhou You, recounted the family’s story of persecution at a congressional briefing hosted by the International Religious Freedom Caucus on May 23.
“My grandfather died last year. I couldn’t go to the funeral, because if I return to China, I will be in jail,” Zhou You said at the event, which was hosted by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), chairman of the International Religious Freedom Caucus. “My father couldn’t make it, because he was already in jail.”
Zhou You was one of three people who shared their stories of loss and separation under the Chinese regime’s 24-year-long campaign that has resulted in millions of Falun Gong practitioners being detained in prisons, black jails, and other facilities.
The spiritual practice, which involves a set of meditative exercises and moral teachings centered on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, surged in popularity in the 1990s, leading to an estimated 100 million practitioners in China. The communist regime perceived that as a threat to its grip on power, and unleashed a sweeping persecution campaign that continues today.
“Falun Gong practitioners suffer from persecution, intimidation, censorship, imprisonment, forced labor, torture, organ harvesting, and even death at the hands of the CCP solely because of adherence to their religious beliefs,” said Bilirakis, calling the repression campaign “deplorable.”
“This is not something that just affects people in China,” he said, noting the stories presented at the panel. “This is something that has a direct impact; it has a direct impact on the U.S. citizens and people living in the United States of America.”
A Broken Family
As Lydia Wang, another panelist, prepared her speech over the weekend, she stared at a 1996 photo of herself alongside her parents and three siblings in China. Her family hasn’t been able to take another photo together since.
It was hard for Wang to speak about those painful memories. During the briefing, she paused several times to wipe away tears that were flowing down her cheeks.
Wang was still in high school when the persecution started. Around 2000, police broke into their home and made a mess of everything before forcibly taking away her father in front of his four crying children.
The police didn’t hesitate to use force as the children watched; they beat Wang’s father so brutally that he lost consciousness, she recalled.
“Anything that had some value, they took it away,” Wang, now living in New York, told The Epoch Times.
That was one of the many arrests and incidents of police harassment that the family would be subjected to over the years.
Visiting her jailed father after his second arrest about two years later, Wang and her sister could only see him from behind soundproof glass. He had to write on a chalkboard to communicate.
He told them his situation wasn’t good. The guards directed prisoners to beat him, he told them.
“Why hasn’t your mom come?” Wang remembers her father asking. He wanted Wang’s mother to tell the guards that he was wronged and get him freed, she said.
Wang and her elder sister couldn’t stop crying.
“We didn’t know what to do, because our mom had been arrested as well,” she said.
After his fourth imprisonment in February 2003, Wang’s father was emaciated and suffering from diabetes and kidney failure.
Finally, a prison doctor warned the guards that if they didn’t release Wang’s father immediately, he’d be dead by the next day, Wang said.
After returning home, her father wouldn’t talk much about what he had been through. But the physical effects were obvious. He had so much pain from bruises and other injuries all over his body that he had trouble falling asleep. His leg was so swollen that a pit would appear if it was lightly pressed, Wang said.
Wang’s father died in 2009 from afflictions that he never quite recovered from. Meanwhile, police continued to target the rest of the family, arresting Wang’s mother 11 times in an attempt to coerce her to renounce her faith.
One of the arrests took place shortly after Wang escaped to the United States in 2012 in a bid to keep her second child, which authorities wanted her to abort in line with Beijing’s stringent one-child policy.
In March this year, Wang’s mother was sentenced to four years in prison after more than a half-year of detention without trial. Wang’s second child, now 11, has never met her grandmother in China.
‘I Can’t Keep Quiet’
Like Wang and Zhou, New York architect Simon Zhang was helpless when his mother, Ji Yunzhi, was arrested during the Chinese New Year in 2022, three days before the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Ji, 65, died after 48 days in detention, during which guards subjected her to torture, forced feeding, and humiliation. Handcuffs and iron fetters kept her confined to a hospital bed for the last month of her life.
“My mom had one strong wish: to see for herself how people can practice Falun Gong freely in America,” Zhang said at the event, adding that his mother was unable to secure a passport to the United States because of her belief in Falun Gong.
“Now she will never have that chance.”
“All she did was stay faithful to the principles of Falun Gong—truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance,” Zhang added, recalling that in 2007, his mother was hospitalized for a seizure suffered due to police harassment.
His cousin asked her why she couldn’t “simply keep quiet and practice at home” without distributing flyers regarding the persecution of their faith.
“Look how much you have paid,” his cousin said.
In a “very weak voice,” she told the cousin that she couldn’t. “I have benefited so much from practicing Falun Gong. I can’t keep quiet when Falun Gong is defamed so badly,” she said, according to Zhang.
‘World’s Most Unrecognized’ Persecution
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute and former commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, described the Chinese regime’s repression of Falun Gong as “one of the world’s most unrecognized and serious episodes of religious persecution and possible genocide in the world today.”
In addition to an expansive domestic campaign targeting the faith group, including the killing of detained adherents for their organs, the regime has sent agents overseas to aid in the repression.
Shea cited a recent Department of Justice indictment of two New York men allegedly running a secret police station on Beijing’s behalf. The word Falun Gong appeared 13 times in the indictment.
“It’s part of the CCP’s obsessive worldwide crackdown on Falun Gong,” she said at the briefing.
Wang remains separated from her elder daughter, who’s still in China. She was forced to divorce her husband due to the persecution, and her elder daughter lives with her paternal grandparents.
“During this persecution, one daughter doesn’t have a mother, the other doesn’t have a father,” she said.
Wang’s relatives in China have tried repeatedly to see her mother in prison without success.
She implored the Florida congressman and others at the event to help raise her mother’s case so that Liu can be released and reunited with her in New York.
Zhou You noted that his father has lost almost all his teeth in prison.
“He can’t eat meat, vegetables, or even rice because he can’t bite. The only thing he can eat is buns soaked in soup,” he said.
Bilirakis, a sponsor of the Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act, which was approved by the House in March, said that he wants to see Congress do more to bring such abuses to an end.
“We must do more,” he said. “No person should ever be intimidated, forced from their ancestral homeland, imprisoned, or murdered simply because of their beliefs.
“We’ve just begun to fight.”