By Allan Woods
A Ryerson continuing education student was one of 35 foreigners arrested in Tiananmen Square last Tuesday for publicly practising the band spiritual movement Falun Gong.
Zeon Dolnyckyj, one of two Canadians arrested at the sit-in, stepped into the media spotlight when he arrived at Pearson Airport Wednesday evening, weary from his clash with Chinese authorities.
The 23-year-old from Thornhill, Ont. said he and others at the demonstration were punched, cut and choked by Chinese police.
“The reason I decided to go was because… many of the people inside China don’t even know the severity of the precaution and aren’t allowed to know how good Falun Gong is,” Dolnyckyj said at a press conference last Thursday at the Sheraton Centre.
The country’s Communist government has labelled the group an “evil cult” and accused it of plotting to overthrow the government.
It says Falun Gong has caused more than 1,700 deaths by suicide or by its advice to followers to forgo medical treatment.
Dolnyckyj, a part-time film student, was accompanied at Thursday’s media event by about a dozen supporters and fellow practitioners who wore buttons outlining the three tenets of Falun Gong, which is also known as Falun Dafa: Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance.
Others carried pictures from the demonstration, which were captured with a hidden camera. In the photographs, followers from such countries as Australia, Germany, the United States and Canada are practising Falun Gong while a red and yellow banner outlining the tenets stands in the background.
Within minutes of the start of the demonstration, the group was surrounded by Chinese police vans.
Dolnyckyj, who had a cut on his nose at the press conference, said he was punched in the face by a police officer but managed to slip free with a banner.
“I completely outran the police. But I stopped to unfurl my banner and tell the Chinese people that Falun Gong is good,” he said.
Police officers quickly caught up to him and dragged him back to the van, he said.
“When they got me back into the van I persisted to tell all of the police men that they knew that Falun Gong was good. I continued to tell them that until one of the more muscular and elder plain-clothes police officers came over and punched me in the face.”
The Falun Gong practitioners were herded into a tiny jail cell on the perimeter of Tianenmen Square and held for more than 24 hours, Dolnyckyj claims.
“If you think that they can do this to foreigners in a public place, you can imagine what they do behind closed doors in their quote-unquote re-education centres and in their labour camps. What are they doing to these Chinese people?”
Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, said the 35 followers were “treated with humanitarian concern” but were ordered to leave China for their actions.
Dolnyckyj said Chinese police offered him food while he was in jail.
“I didn’t have much of an appetite after what I experienced,” he said.
Dolnyckyj, who has been practising Falun Gong for the last three years, credits the movement with turning his life around after battles with drugs and alcohol.
“Three-and-a-half years ago I was defeated by society, and chose to give up on all of you and my family, get rid of my ID and head into the mountains to learn martial arts. That’s when I found Falun Dafa. It taught me to transcend my vices and shortcomings and remain in society… I would not have this life were it not for Falun Dafa,” he said in a statement recorded before the trip.
Earlier this month, he and several other practitioners walked from Brock University in St. Catherines to Ryerson to raise awareness about jailed and persecuted Falun Gong practitioners in China.