Hoping to raise awareness about persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, a small group gathered in front of City Hall on Saturday, drawing a three-week tour of the United States to a close.
According to the group’s press release, the Falun Gong practice, which uses meditation and slow deliberate movements to calm the body and mind, has been targeted by Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The press conference participants have been traveling across the United States since Aug. 13 in hopes of raising awareness of human rights violations in China.
The group has also focused on the imprisonment of U.S. citizen Charles Li, whose fiancee, Yeong Ching Foo, was a central participant in Saturday’s event. Foo told how Li, who went to China to expose the persecution of Falun Gong members, was arrested on Jan. 22 when he stepped off the plane. She said he was beaten and interrogated for 72 hours and has been tortured because of his affiliation with Falun Gong and his intent to stop propaganda. Since then, some of Li’s friends in the United States have written letters to Congress, started petitions, and most recently, started an informational tour. An average of 10 to 15 people, all of whom are Falun followers, tour with the group at any given time.
According to the press release, the practice Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, was started in 1992 by Li Hangzhi. At its peak, more than 70 million people in China were practicing Falun, which revolves around the ideas of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.
“There is no political agenda associated with Falun Gong,” said Jianjiang Ye, a member of the New Haven Falun group. “The Chinese government has made a lot of lies, they have to make lies, because there is no evidence against Falun Gong.”
A Falun group practices at Yale every Sunday on Cross Campus, and more than 60 countries have joined the movement. Although Falun is an inherently peaceful practice, Falun follower Yinghua Wu said the Chinese government felt threatened by its large number of followers. More than 1,600 people have been tortured to death and more than 100,000 have been imprisoned, the group reported in the press release.
It was not until five months after Li’s imprisonment that his friends and family discovered that he was being tortured.
“The [Chinese government] told me he was just being detained,” Foo said. “They told me was being treated very well.”
Letters did not reach Li, and he was unable to contact anyone until he did an eight-day hunger strike. At that time, Li was able to send out a letter to the United States detailing the tortures he had endured. Upon hearing that Li was being beaten, Foo said, she was “simply devastated.”
Since Li’s arrest, Congress passed a resolution urging China to stop the persecution, and Li’s friends have written letters to senators and congressmen as well as to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Li’s alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has also lent support to the movement.
Although the Chinese government has a strong hold on the media, supporters of Falun and Li said they are hopeful.
“Over the past four years, more and more people are aware of the situation,” Falun follower Yinghua Wu said. “The truth is not only in the news, it spreads by word of mouth and other means. Little by little, the Chinese people will know.”