Girl Fleeing Persecution in China Kidnapped in New York

The Falun Dafa Information Center has learned of the kidnapping Saturday of a young Beijing girl, Youran Zhao (pronounced “yo-ron jow”), at the hands of a Chinese delegation while visiting the northeastern United States with a study-tour group. Zhao, 14-years old, disappeared sometime between Saturday evening and Sunday noon after declaring her intent to seek political asylum. Zhao practices Falun Gong, which is subject to severe human rights violations in China. Human rights attorneys are seeking immediate intervention from federal agencies. The Information Center believes Zhao is in imminent danger, and is calling for urgent help in locating her and securing her safety.

Zhao was last seen while on the campus of West Point Academy Saturday around 5:00pm with her Chinese school group, which is touring the northeastern U.S. with the stated intention of visiting colleges, practicing English, and sightseeing through Feb. 13. Zhao sought to break from the group and enter into the custody of her aunt, Ms. Xiufen Zhang – a resident of New Jersey. Zhao's parents had authorized Ms. Zhang to serve as her legal guardian and assume custody of her in the U.S., where she would be free of threat of religious persecution. Ms. Zhang was formerly granted power of attorney by Zhao's parents as well.

Sunday morning around noontime, the study group was greeted by five or six police cars upon arriving at MIT as part of its tour. Police searched for Zhao but reported she was nowhere to be found, having been removed from the group. Police had been informed by U.S. Immigration that Ms. Zhang did indeed have power of attorney over Zhao. The Chinese group's leaders have refused to reveal information of Zhao's whereabouts to police, sparking fears that Chinese authorities are now holding her captive, and seeking to hastily remove her to China where she could be punished. Zhao's family tell the Information Center that Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) agents threatened the family prior to Zhao's departure for the U.S., declaring that were she to seek asylum, family would be arrested and sent to China's feared gulag system. Security agents had been surreptitiously listening to the family's phone conversations and reading its email communications with Ms. Zhang in the U.S., they report.

Despite her young age, should Zhao be forcibly returned to China she would certainly face persecution. Since the banning of Falun Gong in 1999, hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens, if not millions, have been thrown into labor camps merely for practicing Falun Gong. Teenagers are no exception: the first documented Falun Gong death owing to torture and abuse was that of Ms. Ying Chen, who was 17 years old. According to Chen's mother, a PSB official admitted to hand-cuffing Chen to a rack and beating her. The same official revealed that two additional children had been hand-cuffed and not allowed to eat or drink, along with Chen. According to Mr. Youling Chen, a former Chinese Embassy official who defected in 2005, Chinese authorities have previously kidnapped foreign nationals back to China for punishment. Communist authorities consider defections or asylum a blow to the Party's esteem.