Egon Knapen will enter history as the first Dutch Falun Gong practitioner to be arrested by the Chinese police. Safely back in his hometown, he runs from one interview to another.
By Carl Mureau
Breda, 19-2-2002 – “We had a plan which failed completely”, says Egon Knapen, at home with his parents in Breda. “With banners we wanted to show the Chinese that Falun Gong still exists and that it has many practitioners worldwide. But we were arrested. The result though is that all of the Dutch media pay attention to it. In fact that is much more important.”
In China, Falun Gong has been forbidden since 1999. The government in Beijing sees the movement of the emigrated master, Li Hongzhi, as a threat. The millions of Falun Gong practitioners themselves do not understand it. By physical exercises and studying Li Hongzhi’s teachings they only strive for refinement of body and mind. Their goals are truth (Zhen), compassion (Shan) and forbearance (Ren). “If everybody would do that, there would never be war again, then earth would be a paradise”, Knapen said.
It may sound soft and unearthly but Egon Knapen in fact seems like a down to earth technician. He grew up in Breda and successfully finished college as a technical engineer. He did a practical course in Germany and now he has a job at Siemens in Munich. “My main occupation is internet applications” In Germany he met Chinese friends, among who were Falun Gong practitioners.
China now plays a big role in Knapen’s life. In November he married his Chinese wife Hua. Besides that he is a convinced adherent of Falun Gong, which he prefers to describe as “a spiritual movement”, which helps you to become a better person. “I have become a more tranquil person, less striving. I used to practice karate and when I was angry I hit a door or so. Now I do not let things disturb me that much any more. You try to improve morally, just let things happen. If now someone hits me, I do not have to hit back”.
The Falun Gong movement began in 1992 and soon attracted millions of followers. The fact that China saw the movement as a threat doesn’t surprise Knapen. “Our teachings are based on truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. Does that fit in the policy of the Chinese government? Hmm, I don’t think so.”
Since Falun Gong was banned, tens of thousands of people were arrested. Many were tortured; according to official statistics 366 lives have already been claimed. “It must already be over 2000”, says Knapen. “Among which are some very cruel cases. I heard about a woman and a baby of eight months old, who have both been killed. That little child had scars of handcuffs around the ankles and the skull was broken. That baby was simply hung upside down and used as a punch bag!”
To get attention for the repression and to tell the Chinese people that Falun Gong still exists, Egon Knapen went to Beijing last week with his wife and a group of Westerners, to Tiananmen Square. “Everyone had his own banner with him, which they would unfold there.” Knapen soon noticed that plain-clothed policemen were ready waiting to counteract with force. That was exactly what happened. Knapen escaped from the Square, but a little further ahead he was taken in anyway, just like 58 other Westerners. His wife Hua escaped that fate. That was Thursday morning.
Knapen was beaten, put against a wall. The police took his picture, took away his camera and books, and wanted to know who organized this protest. “I told them I wouldn’t mention any names.”
They intimidated him. “They said negative things about Falun Gong. When I reacted to that with positive things, one of those musclemen shouted: Shut up. And: You are all sick in your head.”
At first he was being held in a little police station. Later they brought him to a ‘hotel’. “But that was in fact a sort of prison. There we sat with about 20 Westerners in one room. Those people came from Canada, America, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, and Brazil.”
Knapen wasn’t very scared. He believed that Beijing would handle Westerners more careful than their own people. “In November a group was already arrested as well. Those people were released after a couple of days and put back on a flight back home.”
Annoying though were those spitting policemen and their cigarettes. “If you want to join the police over there, I guess you have to smoke. When I returned home to Germany, all my clothes stank from the smoke.”
On Friday morning he was, without prior notice, driven to the airport. At home in Munich he could also welcome his wife Hua again. After that they drove to Breda via Maastricht, to address all the media here. “We would like The Netherlands to condemn China for the persecution. We have to wait and see which position Bush takes (this week during his visit to China). If the entire world complains about those tens of thousands of detainees, there is a chance they are released. And if they are then able to practice Falun Gong like we do here in the free West, we have achieved our goal.”
In Germany there are about a thousand practitioners believes Knapen. In The Netherlands one hundred at most.
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