I've met Annie Yang at a press briefing at the Foreign Press Association in London last week. She works in a Fish&Chips shop in London and lives alone, thousands of miles away from her son and former life as an antique trader in Beijing. If she were to go back to China, she would be re-arrested, tortured again, and probably killed.
Yang was arrested in 2005 and sent to two years in labour camp for being a member of Falun Gong, a Buddha-school spiritual movement, which counts millions of members mostly in China, but also all over the world.
The Chinese government, unsettled by the size of the movement, banned Falun Gong as an “evil cult” in July 1999, two months after 10,000 practitioners staged a day of silent protest in Beijing on April 25 1999.
Now, ten years later, the brutal repression shows no signs of abating, but the world's attention has shifted elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong followers remain imprisoned in Chinese labour camps and prisons - the largest single population of prisoners of conscience in the country, according to Amnesty International. Tens of thousands have been tortured and over 3,200 have lost their lives. Millions others face destitution, job loss, expulsion from school and other form of discrimination.
On the tenth anniversary of the persecution, Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice-President of the European Parliament, who spoke at the Foreign Press Association recently, is urging Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations to investigate “the systematic process of imprisonment without trial, escalating torture and the murder of thousands of innocent people under torture,” he said at a recent press conference in London. “The age of impunity is over and those who know what is taking place in China look to you to take action,” his letter to Ki-moon reads.
He is particularly concerned by the fact that Falun Gong members, who neither drink nor smoke, have become the prime source for the People's Liberation Army's lucrative organ transplant trade.