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Published : 2010-11-15 18:39
Updated : 2010-11-15 18:39

A Chinese national who became a practitioner of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual movement, while in Korea has won refugee status, officials at an appeals court in Seoul said Monday.

She is the first to gain refugee status in Korea after converting to Falun Gong here.

The Seoul High Court ruled in favor of the woman, whose name and age were not disclosed to the media, overruling an earlier court decision not to grant refugee status.

“Considering the circumstances, there are substantial grounds that she may face persecution from the Chinese Government,” said presiding judge Kwak Jong-hoon in the ruling, rejecting the Justice Ministry’s appeal.

The plaintiff had filed for refugee status in March 2009 after practicing the spiritual movement since 2004 but had been rejected by both the Justice Ministry and the district court.

“She was not a practitioner of Falun Gong before coming to Korea, and rather than the fear of persecution we suspect she is trying to extend the period of her stay,” said district court officials in the initial ruling.

However, according to high court officials, she had originally come to Korea to seek employment in 2001, and started to practice the movement later. They went on to say that after viewing China’s oppression of practitioners, they believe that she “has a well-founded fear of being persecuted” as defined by the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention.

“Refugees are not only those that defect from China in fear of oppression for practicing Falun Gong, but also those that draw the attention of the government (China) which might lead to persecution when they return home,” said officials.

According to the convention a refugee is someone who is outside of their country who fears persecution from and is unwilling to return to that country.

After learning of the persecution of practitioners back home, the woman became an active voice in protesting the Chinese Communist Party and the oppression of Falun Gong, through the Internet and other sources.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice which became popular in China during the 1990’s, taught largely because of its homegrown nature.

In 1999 the Chinese government outlawed the practice, reportedly because 10,000 adherents were able to organize a silent protest in April that year without the government’s knowledge.

Soon the government came to view Falun Gong as a national threat and began a merciless campaign to be rid of practitioners.

There are Falun Gong activists in the streets of Korea protesting the torture, imprisonment without charge, re-education-through-labor camps and murder of practitioners to harvest organs. Amnesty international has repeatedly reported on the issue of persecution of practitioners.

By 1999, Master Li Hongzhi, founder of the movement, claimed to have more than 100 million followers around the world.

By Robert Lee (rjmlee@heraldcorp.com)