Student deported from China for Falun Gong beliefs

Karen Grennan

Benjamin Zgodny, a senior business management major, was put in a Chinese jail and then deported from China after taking a trip to the country to protest the persecution of Falun Gong.
Zgodny, a follower of the practice of Falun Gong since 1999, went to China for what was supposed to be a nine day trip. His main purpose for going to China was to gather in Tiananmen Square on Feb. 14 with 100 other western practitioners from all over the world to hold up banners promoting Falun Gong. Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a practice meant to improve morality and health, based on the three principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. The ultimate goal of the practice is to reach enlightenment.
According to a Feb. 21 article in the Wall Street Journal, China’s rulers have banned the Falun Gong movement, condemning it as an “evil cult” and embarking an official campaign to wipe it out. Anyone caught practicing or promoting Falun Gong in China will be severely persecuted. The persecution is a world wide issue since people in over 40 countries practice Falun Gong.
Zgodny and Scott Roberson, a fellow practitioner of Falun Gong, had been sightseeing in Tiananmen Sqaure on Feb. 12 when they were randomly searched by Chinese police officers. After the police found a book about Falun Gong in Zgodny’s bag, they forced him and Roberson into the back of a van. The two were then taken to police headquarters.
At the police station, Zgodny and Roberson were put through metal detectors and had all their personal belongings searched. The two were then sent to police headquarters about ten minutes away.
Zgodny and Roberson were separated at the police headquarters and put into interrogation rooms at the police headquarters for five to seven hours, Zgodny said.
In Zgodny’s interrogation room, a Chinese police officer who spoke English repeatedly asked him who brought him here, among many other questions, and accused him of coming to China to spread the ideas of Falun Gong.
Zgodny said he tried to be nice to the police officers, and explain to them that “Good is rewarded with good, and evil is rewarded with evil,” which is a philosophy of Falun Gong.
“At some points, I was so scared,” said Zgodny. “I didn’t know what was going on. The worst was when they put us in a cell before being interrogated. It was dirty and nasty, and a lot of practitioners were probably tortured there.”
Zgodny and Roberson were forced to sleep in beds in the upper level of the police headquarters after the interrogation, while being watched by police offers all night.
At 5 a.m., Zgodny and Roberson were escorted to the youth hostel where they were staying to get their luggage.
“At the youth hostel where we were staying there was a reporter trying to take pictures of us,” said Zgodny. “I put my jacket hood on to hide my face because any pictures the reporter would have taken would be used in the Chinese newspapers as propaganda against Falun Gong.”
Zgodny and Roberson were then taken into a private room at the airport where they were questioned and searched again by a police officer, a news reporter and a man who was normally dressed that Zgodny suspected was a 610 officer. The 610 office in China was founded solely to eradicate Falun Gong.
During this search, the police officer found a folder in Zgodny’s bag which contained Chinese truth clarifying information and a Falun Gong fleece coat in Roberson’s bag, which was confiscated.
They were told they were sending them back to the United States, and were put on the same commercial airline they took to China.
Zgodny does not see this experience as negative. “I want to use this experience to tell the media and everyone that people in China are being persecuted for truthfulness, compassion and tolerance,” said Zgodny. “If those three principles are illegal in China, what kind of principles are they governing China with?”
He is not against China or its government. “Through Falun Gong I gained appreciation of China and its culture very deeply,” he said.
Zgodny has not taken any legal action, but has wrote letters to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut’s Third Congressional District, as well as Sarah Walkling, DeLauro’s Foreign Affairs coordinator. He plans to contact his congresswoman in his hometown district of Chappaqua, N.Y. An assistant of Senator Chris Dodd will bring up Zgodny’s issue with the American Embassy in Beijing.