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Arrested Activist Returns To U.S.

Arrested Activist Returns To U.S.Calling for international attention to the treatment of Falun Gong members in China, a 1999 Tufts graduate attracted world-wide coverage after he was detained by Chinese police. Detroit.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.03.02] Less than two days after arriving in Beijing last week, Jason Pomerleau found himself in a Chinese jail cell -- arrested for protesting the Chinese government's treatment of the Falun Gong movement. While the 1999 Tufts graduate's trip to China didn't go as he had planned, Pomerleau's 42-hour ordeal was not a failure -- bringing a new round of international attention to the issue.

"I went there hoping to tell people the truth about the persecution of Falun Gong by the Jiang Zemin Regime and to tell the Chinese government that this is not a matter of 'China's internal affairs,'" he wrote in an account of his arrest released yesterday after he arrived back in the United States. "The world will not stand by and watch while they persecute innocent Falun Gong practitioners to death."

Based on traditional Chinese martial arts and spirituality, Falun Gong has attracted tens of millions of followers over the last 10 years, but was banned by the Chinese government as a threat to communist rule.

According to the Associated Press, "Thousands of Falun Gong members have been detained in China, and the group's supporters abroad claim hundreds of people have been killed in captivity, a charge Beijing denies."

But Pomerleau's account of his detainment by Chinese authorities -- including his 42-hour imprisonment for his connections with the movement -- sparked a new round of scrutiny about the treatment of Falun Gong members.

"We were getting on the bus, when somebody in plain clothes grabbed us," he told the international news service. "Immediately my reaction was 'We haven't done anything wrong. We haven't committed any crime.'"

Pomerleau and his girlfriend -- a Canadian college student also in Beijing to protest -- were taken into custody, where they said they were repeatedly questioned and threatened. They said requests to contact their embassies were denied.

"If we had been Chinese, we would have been beaten severely," Pomerleau told the AP. "We are very, very lucky."

The arrests attracted the attention of the U.S. and Canadian governments, as well as several U.S. Congressmen in China for a conference.

The Washington Times reported that Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe and Democratic Rep. Tom Allen, as well as the State Department, worked to arrange Pomerleau's release. Throughout the week, newspapers around the world followed the story of the missing couple as well.

The treatment of the pair may be tied to increased crackdowns on the Falun Gong movement in China, reported Europe's Agence France Presse news service.

"The couple's arrest came after Falun Gong complained that 5,000 of its members had been rounded up in a new purge against the group in Changchun city in northeastern Jilin province," reported AFP.

Back in the U.S., Pomerleau said he hopes his experiences result in continuing attention to the issue.

"I hope my going to China lessens the pressure on my fellow practitioners by further exposing the persecution, and I hope it also inspires them by letting them know that the whole world is watching," he said in a statement.

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