Major Exposure in Serbia During Europe-China Summit

I’ve been practising Falun Dafa for over ten years. Although I’ve used every opportunity to spread the Fa in my country, there are still very few practitioners here. This hinders larger-scale activities, but opens space for cooperation with practitioners from abroad.

Many times, practitioners from neighbouring countries have come to help. However, before December last year, when the summit between China and sixteen Central and Eastern European countries was held in Belgrade, we never had an opportunity to clarify the truth on such a massive scale.

Preparation
As Fa-study is the basis of our cultivation, we started regular online meetings in order to form one body. Some countries have already held events like this, so we discussed their experiences. The situations were not universal, however. The Summit was held in Poland, and practitioners were allowed by police to do what they wanted. In Romania, however, police banned all of our activities, so practitioners had to search for alternative ways.

Based on our previous experience with police, we didn’t expect that anything bad would happen in Serbia. We applied for a permit, had a talk with the police chief, and waited for a positive answer.

In the meantime, we drafted a letter for the 16 attending Prime Ministers, in which we mentioned the European Union's anti-forced organ harvesting resolution, and urged the European leaders to raise the issue with the Chinese delegation.

The letter was co-signed by 16 Dafa associations and delivered on the Thursday before the Summit week. Initially I tried to send it by fax, but was told that the fax machine was not working. I then tried to email the letter, but their computer system broke down. In the end, the cabinet confirmed receipt of the letter, and said that it would be delivered to the PMs.

We held a press conference on Friday to announce our action and present our letter to the public. As if they were waiting for the press conference to conclude, police immediately started parading around me. First, it was the chief of one police station, who delivered the ban personally. He said the decision came from the top. Then, another police station, where we applied for a permit for another event, also banned us. Finally, foreign police visited me at the hostel reception where I worked, to check out who would be coming the next week. I told them whatever I knew–there was nothing to hide.

But they were not convinced. That night, I went to a fellow practitioner’s home for Fa-study and noticed that I had been followed. A Serbian practitioner from another city had the same experience. He was even summoned to secret police headquarters and interrogated.

The pressure was rising, but the real event followed on Saturday morning: a fairly respected newspaper launched a campaign against us using a combination of propaganda from the Chinese Communist Party and by twisting what I said during a police interview.

I notified the European Dafa Association about the ban and the newspaper campaign. The advice I got was a quotation of Master’s words, that whatever they do against us, will eventually turn against them.

That evening we had our last online meeting before gathering in Belgrade, so I informed practitioners about the new development. I told them that the complete state apparatus and government-controlled media were against us, so coming to Belgrade may be risky. I asked, “Do we still think we should continue?”

Their response touched me deeply. Some ten practitioners from seven or eight countries were present, and they were all in one voice: “We are Dafa practitioners–we should NOT give up.” “If we cannot hold demonstrations, we can take other actions. Even if we practice and study together, that is good enough.”

The decision was to proceed, but with a different approach. That included minimizing security risks, and finding alternative accommodations, unknown to the police.
Persecution

The sky was heavy, and there was suspense in the air. Somehow I felt the atmosphere was similar to that of July 1999, though I was not a practitioner at that time. Sunday wouldn’t be as eventful for us in Serbia, but some practitioners were already on their way.

As two practitioners from Croatia and one from Slovenia tried to cross the border on Sunday evening, they were found to be on a blacklist and denied entry. The explanation was that demonstrations were banned, and that Falun Gong was considered a threat to national security.

Early Monday morning I found out that nine Bulgarian practitioners had made their way to Belgrade, but were picked up by police from the hostel in Belgrade and taken to an unknown location.

The same morning, foreign police paid a visit to my home, searching for hidden practitioners, but they found only three of us local practitioners. They admitted that Bulgarians had been detained by their department, but refused to give any further details.

When the time came, the three of us went out to visit the newspapers. One of the practitioners suddenly had pain in her leg, so we were moving slowly, but in the end we managed to reach the editor and writer of that slanderous article. They both seemed ashamed and apologized to us, but didn’t promise to publish a retraction. Nor did we insist on that.

We next visited the journalist association and an NGO known for protecting human rights. That was a good choice, as they immediately initiated urgent action, including contacting various institutions and levels of government, ombudsman, and friendly media.

All participating practitioners had already been notified about the arrests. Some canceled their trips, but some did not. So more arrests were about to happen.

That same day, a Slovakian practitioner was taken from her hostel in the same manner as the Bulgarians.

Three Finish practitioners landed at the Belgrade airport, but two of them were found on a police list and were denied entry. They had to turn back. The third made her way to her hotel, but was arrested there.

By the end of the day, eleven EU citizens had been detained, including one with UN refugee status, who had suffered persecution and torture while in China. Each was denied basic human rights, including the right to make a phone call, get a lawyer, or even a translator. Embassies were already involved, and this was becoming a big issue.

Master said in Teaching the Fa at the 2003 Midwest-U.S. Fa Conference:

“...this entire persecution consists of lies, slander, and the most despicable means that can’t bear the light of day.”

Our task was clear: To tell the world and bring to them the light of the day.

Exposure
On Tuesday, my home became a media centre. We wrote press statements and letters to EU institutions. At the same time, practitioners from various countries started contacting local media and VIPs.

News arrived regarding the detained practitioners: they were all being held together in a detention centre for foreigners, but hadn’t been treated badly. They told the guards and detention centre chief about the persecution of Falun Dafa, and gained their sympathy.

However, they were given a kind of ultimatum by a higher authority: if they agreed to sign a statement admitting that they came to Belgrade to join an illegal demonstration, they would be released. If they refused to sign, they could be held up to 30 days and deported like criminals, with no right to ever come back.

Each of the practitioners felt this was very similar to the statements that practitioners in China are forced to sign. Each refused to cooperate, and this provided more time for us to work on exposing the issue.

The first fruit of our media work came on Tuesday. An NTDTV reporter caught the Serbian minister for EU integration at a press conference in Brussels, and inquired about the arrests. Looking confused, the minister admitted there was an issue with detained EU citizens, and promised that it would be resolved quickly.

We previously hadn’t received anything official about the arrests, and local media refused to report on the matter. On the contrary, some media duplicated the negative article from Saturday, and some Bulgarian media even did that as well. After the minister’s statement, however, free media started reaching out to us to learn what had really happened.

On Tuesday I was interviewed by a mainstream TV station, but for some reason they were reluctant to broadcast any of it. Only after additional efforts by a practitioner from Sweden, who contacted various media on her own accord and reached the editor of the TV network, did they actually start to cover the arrests of Falun Gong practitioners.

“Good work,” said a neighbour after the first TV report. He knew nothing about Falun Gong before.

Wednesday brought major breakthroughs. First, I met with practitioners from Israel and Greece, who were in Belgrade for the last couple of days, but didn’t contact us for security reasons. Together we decided not to hide any longer, and later we even went to the park to do the Dafa exercises together. What made this possible was a real change in climate.

On Wednesday, messages of support from the EU Commission and the EU Ambassador to Serbia reached us. Also, Amnesty International published a statement, as well as the Slovakian MEP in charge of Serbia-EU relations. They all asked for the immediate release of the Falun Gong practitioners. That was big news, and media both in Serbia and Bulgaria started to inquire about what Falun Gong is, and why the practitioners were detained in Serbia.

One of the media was a news cable network. Knowing that Romanian practitioners managed to have the film “Free China” aired on TV during the China Summit in Bucharest, we offered a special deal to the network, and they agreed.

Release
We may never know what happened behind the scenes, but there are indications that many VIPs throughout the EU got their chance to defend Falun Gong practitioners, and perhaps chose their futures in that way. All practitioners were finally released on Thursday, when the Summit was over, after 72 hours of detention. It seemed the police were still afraid of them, so they escorted the practitioners to the borders and then let them go.

For the next couple of weeks, Bulgarian practitioners became rather famous in their country. There was a series of TV interviews and media coverage.

In Slovakia, the Falun Gong story was covered in several magazines, on mainstream TV, and in a Christmas program, together with an exercise demonstration.

In Serbia, “Free China” was broadcast twice during prime time, while subsequent cooperation with the same TV network resulted in another two broadcasts of “Transcending Fear,” a film about the human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng, who had been tortured by the Chinese communist regime for his work.

Later media reports included a very good one on the killing of practitioners in China for their organs, published by the newspapers that initially started the campaign against us.

In at least three countries, this event had the effect of significantly exposing the persecution of Falun Gong.

From a cultivation standpoint, we had to remove many obstacles in order to achieve these results, including the attachment to fear and attachment to reputation. None of the detained practitioners ever blamed the Serbian police for the episode, being fully aware what was behind it. It was the same with me in the beginning, but in the later stages of this event, while my Fa-study deteriorated in quality, I realized that I was beginning to fall into being political, and actually blaming the police and the government.

I later remembered that the police chief said that the “the order came from the top,” and came to the understanding that he was not referring to any police level. I wrote a letter to the PM, kindly asking for a meeting with association representatives. We never got an answer, but that’s not the main point. The point is that I developed compassion towards the man who most likely ordered the brutal campaign against Falun Dafa practitioners, and that I had forgiven him.

I will end this sharing with a message from a Serbian practitioner from another city, sent to the mailing list: “I have practised Dafa since 2010. I live in Nis. I drive an old Zastava 128. They followed me for two days, in a black Toyota and silver VW. They waited the entire night in my parking lot, and also followed me to my workplace. They even took me in for questioning... They were interested what Falun Gong is–a political organization? I said I had practised for four years, but I’m not sure they understood me. I don’t know how they found my phone number and the rest of it. Should I seek legal help? I will continue to practice.”

Thank you, Master, for this precious opportunity. Thanks to all practitioners for your support.

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