Photo by Anne Fishbein

Amid the crowds that gather at Palisades Park in the summertime, I discovered a group of immobile activists. At first I was sure that I was looking at wax figures. I realized that the motionless shapes were actual people. They were participating in a display of various forms of torture enacted against the practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Banned in China and misunderstood around the world, Falun Gong — sometimes called a blend of Buddhism and Taoism — is often lumped together with Japan’s Aum Shinri Kyo, the group that attacked Tokyo’s subways with sarin gas, or described, unfairly, according to its members, as a cult that encourages suicide. The abuse suffered by Falun Gong practitioners, including brainwashing, forced labor and physical torture, is less known. Earlier this week, 72 members sued a Houston-area hotel for canceling their reservations “at the request of Chinese agents during an October 2002 visit by the Chinese president,” according to the Houston Chronicle. “The lawsuit also accuses the hotel of canceling the reservations of all those with Asian names . . . Hotel officials said at the time that the reservations were canceled because the hotel was overbooked.”

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