A Quinnipiac University student and a New Haven man say they were detained for more than 24 hours in China, then expelled by Chinese police who learned that the two men are followers of the banned religious sect Falun Gong.

Benjamin Zgodny, a business major at Quinnipiac, and Scott Roberson, a computer consultant, traveled to China on Feb. 10, planning to participate in protests on Feb. 14 against the Chinese government’s crackdown against Falun Gong.

Chinese authorities expelled them the day before the planned protest.

“We were intending to be part of a larger demonstration on Thursday,” Roberson said. “Until that time, we were just going to be tourists.”

A spokesman for Quinnipiac University said Tuesday the school backs the account of Zgodny and Roberson and publicized it. University officials will not protest the incident.

Falun Gong is loosely based on traditional martial arts and Buddhism and attracted tens of millions of followers during rapid social changes of the mid-1990s. Beijing banned the sect in July 1999 as a threat to communist rule.

Zgodny, 22, of Chappaqua, N.Y., is student coordinator of Quinnipiac’s Friends of Falun Gong. He and Roberson visited Tiananmen Square Feb. 12 as tourists, not protesters, he said.

As the pair sat on a bench, Zgodny said a police officer demanded to examine the contents of a bag Zgodny was carrying. He discovered a book, the Zhuan Falun, which is read by Falun Gong followers, Zgodny said.

“As soon as he saw the book, a few seconds later, a police van pulled right up and they forced us into the back of the police van,” Zgodny said.

Roberson, 33, said the pair was taken to a police detention center where they were again searched and interrogated.

Police then forced Zgodny against a wall to get a photo of him, he said. He resisted.

Zgodny said he refused to be photographed because he believed his image would be used by Chinese authorities in anti-Falun Gong propaganda. Guards restrained him to obtain a photo.

The two men were placed briefly in separate cells. “When I was sitting in that jail cell, I was afraid because I thought, ‘What’s going to happen?”‘ Zgodny said.

Roberson and Zgodny were soon escorted back to their hostel, where police questioned their roommates and searched their belongings, they said.

Police returned them to the airport on Feb. 13 and put them on a plane back to the United States.

Chinese police did not tell them if they could return, Zgodny said. Neither traveler said he plans to go back.

–Associated Press