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China Releases U.S. Detainee

February 12, 2000

BEIJING (AP) _ An American woman who was detained by Chinese authorities for taking a picture at a protest by the banned Falun Gong group was released and left for the United States on Saturday, her boyfriend said.

After a week’s detention, police put Tracy Zhao, 30, of Queens in New York City, on a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit on Saturday morning, said Lin Chong-li, who is also from New York.

``She’s out of here, finally,″ Lin said.

The U.S. Embassy declined comment, saying that because the Chinese had allowed no consular access, officials had not obtained a privacy waiver from Zhao.

Zhao, a Northwest Airlines flight attendant, was taking a picture of police breaking up a protest by members of the Falun Gong meditation group around midnight Feb. 4 at Tiananmen Square when police detained her.

According to Lin, she did not join the protest but was there to observe it and show support. She was among at least 50 Falun Gong followers detained at the protest, which was held as China welcomed the lunar new year. Police kicked, punched and dragged many of the demonstrators before putting them in vans and driving them away.

Zhao, who was born in Beijing, emigrated to the United States at age 20. She had been practicing Falun Gong for about a year, according to her mother, Yan Zuo. Zhao was visiting Beijing to celebrate the new year and to find out how Falun Gong members in China were being treated, Yan said.

The Chinese government banned Falun Gong in July as a menace to the public and a threat to Communist Party control. Founded in 1992 by a former Chinese government clerk who now lives in New York, Falun Gong attracted millions of followers drawn to its mix of slow-motion exercises, Buddhist and Taoist cosmology and message of moral living.

Protests by members persist despite a crackdown that has seen thousands sent to labor camps and top group leaders sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years.

Update hourly