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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 6) - Seven Chinese nationals who came to Saipan as tourists are seeking refugee protection in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, citing fear of persecution in their home country because of their links to Falun Gong and their distribution of compact discs containing articles against the Chinese Communist Party.

Their case could affect the CNMI’s current efforts to bring in more tourists from China.

On Friday, six of the seven Chinese tourists met with reporters to share their stories.

One of the representatives of the tour agencies that brought the tourists on Saipan asked, "How would you know if they are just making up all their stories?"

So far, only one foreign national — a Falun Gong practitioner — has been granted refugee status by the Attorney General’s Office since the adoption of refugee protection regulations in September 2004.

The CNMI Attorney General’s Office has been tight-lipped on the issue of refugee protection.

Five of the Chinese tourists, who are related to each other, said they are going to apply for refugee protection this morning.

They arrived here on Feb. 28 on a five-day tourist visa that expired on Saturday.

They said it was cheaper for them to travel to Saipan than to the United States where they could also seek refugee protection or political asylum.

Through Chinese newspaper Pacific Weekly’s editor-in-chief Yang Chun, who served as translator, the family said they would all be tortured or killed by the Chinese police if they were forced to go back to their home country.

They said they are all being hunted by the police.

"When they came here, they called us," said Yang, a Falun Gong practitioner on Saipan.

The family, led by 41-year-old Guo Bao Long, said his dislike of the Chinese government led him to copy and distribute CDs containing nine articles criticizing the Chinese Communist Party.

"I wish a lot more Chinese would know about the evils of communism. We’d be dead if we went back to China. Give us liberty or death," Guo said through Yang.

On Friday, Yang’s Chinese newspaper, Pacific Weekly, ran a front page photo and story about these Chinese with the title, "7 Chinese Tourists Ask for Political Asylum."

Guo’s uncle, 61-year-old Liu Chang Mei, helped him distribute the CDs and practiced Falun Gong in China in 1998 until he stopped in the winter of 1999 due to fear of persecution.

Guo’s wife, 21-year-old Liu Lan Lan, also helped him distribute the CDs.

His mother, 60-year-old Wu Ying Lai, practiced Falun Gong until she became fearful of being tortured, so she stopped.

According to Guo, his 35-year-old brother Guo Qiang now seems to have the mind of a 5-year-old because of the torture he suffered in the three times that he was imprisoned in China also for practicing Falun Gong.

"They tortured him. Now he has a mental disability. Policemen ordered him to give up his Falun Gong principles but he didn’t so he continued to be tortured," said Yang.

During Friday’s interview, the younger Guo reenacted one of the ordeals he had to endure at the hands of the Chinese police — that of having him squat on a bench of nails for hours. He said he also had to endure electric shocks.

The Chinese government has a track record of widespread persecution of members of Falun Gong — a gentle spiritual practice consisting of exercises and moral teachings which the Communist government in Beijing considers a threat.

‘We don’t want to go’

The tourists include the twin sisters who were earlier reported missing by their travel agent, Century Tours.

Yong He and Jing He, both 51 years old, came to Saipan on Feb. 21 and were supposed to leave on Feb. 25.

Through Yang, the twins said they had applied for refugee protection with the AGO last Tuesday.

"They were told that they can now stay here because of their application," said Yang.

Acting Immigration Director Melvin Grey, in a brief telephone interview yesterday with Variety, said there may have been "miscommunication" on this issue.

He said if the court has not ordered deportation, a person cannot apply for refugee protection.

He added that he has not seen a copy of any document or letter that the twins said they gave to the AGO last week.

Grey referred Variety to Attorney General Matthew Gregory for further comment.

The twins said they were arrested in China once, and continue to be under heavy surveillance by the Chinese police for helping their sister-in-law, a Falun Gong practitioner, hide from authorities.

Their sister-in-law, however, was caught by the police and imprisoned. The twin sisters posted bail equivalent to $8,000 for their relative’s freedom, "but police continue to assign lots of detectives to watch the sister-in-law and the twins," said Yang.

The twins said they were also subjected to torture by the police, including having their hair pulled and heads banged on concrete walls to force them to disclose the whereabouts of their sister-in-law.

"We don’t want to go (back to China)," said one of the twins.

Under the AGO regulations, 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 to apply for refugee protection.

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

The twins, as well as the family, said they are waiting for the court to give them their deportation orders.

On April 18, 2005, the AGO gave a Falun Gong practitioner a conditional grant of protection.

Months later, the woman was given a "final" grant of refugee protection.

Since then, the AGO has been mum on the issue.

Last year, a spokesperson for Falun Gong practitioners told Variety that 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.

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

March 6, 2006

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