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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 11) - A Falun Gong practitioner from China who sought refugee protection om the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has been given a "conditional grant of protection" pending the completion of a background check on her, Variety learned.

The Attorney General’s Office issued this decision on Friday.

The 46-year-old Chinese national is the first to be given conditional protection among nonresidents in the CNMI who are seeking refugee status.

Vincent T. Perez, spokesman of Falun Gong or Falun Dafa in the CNMI, said the AGO authorized the woman to legally stay on Saipan pending the issuance of a final decision.

Perez serves as translator for the Chinese woman.

The woman, who asked not to be identified or photographed, granted Variety an interview, through Perez, on Friday afternoon.

Perez said owing to the arduous and difficult process, it took the AGO close to five months to issue a decision.

"I am happy for her…but we are trying not to be emotional about it until the final decision is made…. My message to the community is to have confidence in the AGO. They are very competent," he added.

Under CNMI regulations that took effect in Sept. 2004, only foreign nationals who have been ordered deported by the CNMI Superior Court, or have been denied entry at a CNMI port of entry, are eligible applicants for refugee protection.

These foreign nationals must also prove that they face persecution or torture in their home countries.

The Chinese woman, a long-time Falun Gong practitioner, arrived on Saipan in 2003 as a tourist. She came here to visit her husband. Her application for a visa extension was granted.

Perez, who is also publisher of a Chinese newspaper on Saipan called The Epoch Times, said the woman was ordered deported upon the expiration of her extended visa in 2004 and voluntarily submitted herself to the authorities.

"She had been experiencing harassment in China because she is a Falun Gong practitioner. Before she came here to visit her husband, she didn’t consider applying for refugee protection but her son, who is in China, told her the Chinese police kept asking for her and when she would be back in China…. She fears persecution, she fears for her life," said Perez.

He added, "She feels her life is in jeopardy so she filed for refugee protection."

The Chinese government persecutes its citizens who practice Falun Gong, a gentle spiritual practice consisting of exercises and moral teachings.

Perez said they do not encourage every Falun Gong practitioner in the CNMI to apply for refugee protection because one of the principles they believe in is honesty.

The woman lost her job in China, and Perez said this was due to pressure exerted by the Chinese government on her employer.

Perez said Chinese police had been conducting unannounced searches at her house, looking for Falun Gong publications. Computer files were also being searched, he added.

"We hope to show the public that the persecution (of Falun Gong) in China is sad, and it is still happening…She wouldn’t have applied for refugee protection, but she doesn’t want to go home to be tortured and killed," said Perez.

He added, "People should appreciate their freedom. This freedom is not available in China, while others take freedom for granted."

The woman has one child in China, owing to the Chinese government’s "one child" policy. The son, according to Perez, is now an adult.

There are 30 to 40 active practitioners of Falun Gong in the CNMI.

April 11, 2005

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