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This article was published 11/7/2015 (624 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A 76-year-old grandmother in Winnipeg who was persecuted in China is going after that country's former leader.
Ruirong Chen has filed a formal complaint with China's highest court against Jiang Zemin, 89, who ordered a crackdown on practitioners of Falun Gong that began in 1999.
"We hope to stop this 16 years of persecution," said Chen through an interpreter. Zemin banned the mix of meditation, exercise and spirituality as it was gaining popularity in China. The former president of the People's Republic of China ordered the persecution of Falun Gong adherents such as herself, said Chen.
"He's the person most responsible -- he should be punished by the law." The retired schoolteacher says she was held under house arrest, had her savings and identity card taken away and was publicly shamed and humiliated for practising Falun Gong.
She fled her home in Jiyang county, Szechuan, for Chengdu, then came to Canada in 2009 to help her daughter with her new baby. In Winnipeg, she filed a successful refugee claim, saying she feared persecution if she returned to China.
Falun Gong practitioners have been imprisoned, sent to work camps and some have reportedly had their organs forcibly harvested -- a subject Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas investigated and has written about in books.
Chen is a permanent resident status in Canada and can freely practise Falun Gong with her Winnipeg group, but she isn't content to leave the past in the past.
At lunchtime on Tuesday, she and other Falun Gong practitioners and supporters will be the focus of this week's Silent Circle for Peace outside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The weekly gathering from 12:15 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. will remember those who have died as a result of persecution and those who are still being abused and killed for their organs.
Two of Chen's Falun Gong friends in her home county of Jiyang were arrested and imprisoned for extended periods and died shortly after being released from detention, she said.
They were among the 25 Falun Gong practitioners she met with every day in China. Once a week, they met with other groups at the Jiyang train station and 1,000 people would practise Falun Gong together.
"It's very hard to think about," said Chen, for whom discovering the practice in 1996 was a life-saver.
"It gave me so much." She grew up during famine and had a lifetime of health problems -- migraines, nausea, missed periods, hair loss, depression and anger. "Sometimes I would sleep and wish that I would never wake up."
In her 50s, she was introduced to Falun Gong. Within weeks of practising it, she felt well for the first time in her life.
"It changed my life," said Chen. "I had no idea what life was like without a headache." It changed her mental outlook, too, she said.
"Even how I always felt angry -- it was very deep-rooted -- I don't feel that now." After a life of hardship, she has a twinkle in her eye and amazingly lustrous black hair with some grey strands. She sat on the floor of a friend's home Thursday stitching a banner that says in Mandarin "We treasure the lives of the Chinese and hope the world understands the truth" for Tuesday's peaceful demonstration.
Falun Gong advocate and practitioner Maria Cheung said more than 34,000 people such as Winnipeg's Chen have taken their complaints about Zemin to China's highest court. Some have received an official acknowledgment of receipt. That's in sharp contrast to the past when those who complained were jailed and tortured, she said.
Lawyer Matas said the Chinese government has still not repealed its policy of repressing Falun Gong.
"It's not clear things are getting better," Matas said. A power struggle in the Chinese leadership has seen some of the henchmen who persecuted Falun Gong practitioners arrested for corruption, he said.