Beliefnet
BEIJING, Dec. 1 (AP) -- China has sent a Chinese-Canadian Falun Gong follower to a labor camp for three years, Canada said Friday, the first practitioner of the banned sect with foreign citizenship to be imprisoned.

Zhang Kunlun was sentenced Nov. 15 by a court in eastern Shandong province and is now in the Liuchangshan labor camp outside the provincial capital of Jinan, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said. He went on a hunger strike before he was sentenced.

Authorities have not permitted Canadian diplomats to visit Zhang, said embassy spokeswoman Jennifer May. She said Zhang entered China on a Chinese passport and officials here don't recognize his Canadian citizenship.

Zhang, 60, was a professor of sculpture at the Shandong Institute of Art who emigrated to Canada in 1989, obtained citizenship in 1995 and returned to China in 1996 to resume teaching, the Hong Kong Information Center said.

Falun Gong spread throughout China and in foreign communities during the 1990s, attracting millions of members with a mix of physical exercise, meditation and a hybrid philosophy drawn from Taoism, Buddhism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi.

Fearing the group's size and organizational strength, China's leaders banned Falun Gong in July 1999. Since then the Information Center estimates tens of thousands have been detained and thousands sent to labor camps. At least 72 followers have died in police custody by the Information Center's count.

In the latest deaths, Kong Qinghuang, deputy head of Ling'an township in southwestern Yunnan province, was arrested for protesting in Beijing on June 13, the center said. Kong, 33, refused food in detention and died on Sept. 3, it said.

A man who answered the phone at Ling'an township government offices confirmed Kong's death, but declined to provide details or give his name.

Another follower, 42-year-old Meng Qingxi, died Nov. 20 after being beaten by guards at a detention center, the Hong Kong group said. Meng, arrested Sept. 30 in his hometown of Mengjiacun in Shandong, was beaten after his family failed to pay a $234 fine, the center said.

Officials in the Mengjiacun government claimed no knowledge of the case.

China has acknowledged that some Falun Gong members have died in custody but denied that any deaths were caused by mistreatment.

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