Six Vietnamese Falun Gong followers detained while traveling illegally in China have been deported home after they were “brutally” beaten by police and held in prison for several days, according to the men.
They were part of a group of a dozen followers who had traveled to China in July. The other six, all women, were deported home last week.
The men were flown to Hanoi on Thursday, nearly a week after their whole group was rounded up by police in Beijing on Sept. 6.
The group had been arrested, one of the men said, after making plans for a protest in Tiananmen Square against the Chinese government’s treatment of practitioners of Falun Gong—which is banned in China as an “evil cult.”
The six women in the group, who had entered China with proper documentation, were deported to Hanoi after being held overnight, while the men, who had entered China without visas, were interrogated and put in prison for five days, according to Vu Hong To.
“We six men in the group did not have papers, while the six women did,” To told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“They kept us there [in prison] for 5 days,” he said. “During that time, we were on hunger strike and they forced fed us through our noses. It was horrible.”
Spreading the message
The group had traveled to China—where Falun Gong originated—to spread information about the Chinese government’s mistreatment of practitioners of the sect, he said.
“The purpose of our trip to Beijing was to display our banners at the Tiananmen Square so that the world would know how badly they treat Falun Gong members,” he said, adding that they had also wanted “to tell other Falun Gong followers to come join us.”
“When we got to Beijing, we spread our message, but before we could do what we wanted, we were arrested,” he said.
The group had entered China from the Vietnamese border town of Mong Cai two months ago, stopping in various cities in 15 provinces on the way to Beijing.
Since their return earlier this month, the women had lobbied officials in Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi for the return of the men left behind, saying they feared for their safety.
The women were also severely beaten, and were put on a plane home after police refused their requests to speak with a lawyer or representatives from the Vietnamese Embassy in Beijing, they said.
Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong—which has a growing following in Vietnam—have faced long prison terms and “re-education through labor” sentences since Beijing launched a crackdown on the movement over a decade ago.
Chinese authorities have also put pressure on other governments to restrict Falun Gong gatherings overseas.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.