February 21, 2001

Almost 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners attended the 2001 Western U.S. Falun Dafa experience sharing conference at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 18. Days before the conference, the Chinese Consulate contacted the Pasadena Civic Auditorium asking them to cancel the conference. The Auditorium's general manager denied the Consulate's request. The Chinese Consulate also contacted Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard to persuade him to cancel the event. The mayor also refused

Last year, a similar thing happened when the Chinese Consulate contacted Caltech to cancel an experience sharing conference to be held there. Not only did Caltech refuse, the administration provided security for the conference.

Also at the conference, the Foundation for Religious Freedom sponsored a separate panel discussion about the persecution of Falun Gong in China, of which the featured panelists included Jim Zimmerman, a China specialist for Amnesty International, which just put out a report on human rights abuses in China, and Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Danny Schechter, author of Falun Gong's Challenge to China. The other five panelists were Rev. Albert G. Cohen, Executive Director of S. California Ecumenical Council, Chris Wu, former Publisher and Editor in Chief of China Spring, a magazine about China's affairs, Nancy O'Meara, Interfaith Director of the Foundation for Religious Freedom, and co-author of the book, Tolerance 2000, Linda Groff, director of Global Options Consulting and a Cal State professor at Dominguez Hills, and Alicia Zhao, Falun Gong practitioner, a marketing manager in the Bay area who spent two weeks in a detention center for practicing Falun Gong in December 1999.

Each panelist addressed many thought-provoking issues. Zimmerman pointed out the importance of continuing to raise awareness about the persecution, so that the Chinese government will finally no longer get away with lying about their abuses and denying the torture they use. Schechter said that while it's good to get support to end the persecution from elected officials, it's equally important to get support from those who do business with China, because the business sector influences policy. Groff pointed out that if China wants to assimilate to free trade and globalization, they have to also adhere to the other accepted freedoms that civilized countries enjoy, such as freedom of belief, speech and religion. She said it's unacceptable if they demand free trade, yet want to eschew freedom of belief. Wu made the argument that the Chinese government, by its own definition of what a cult is, is the biggest cult there is, not Falun Dafa, due to its use of torture, blackmail, thought-reform classes, theft, censorship and control of the Chinese media. Zhao tried to put the April 25-Zhongnanhai incident and the daily gathering at Tiananmen Square into perspective. She likened Falun Dafa to the Internet. She asked the audience to imagine what would happen if the government banned the Internet. Most likely, she said, more than 10,000 people would approach the government and explain how the Internet helps them in their daily lives and that they should not ban the Internet. Thus, it's not hard to understand why Falun Gong practitioners appeal to the government to explain why Falun Gong is good.

Also at the panel discussion, Falun Gong practitioner Professor Kunlun Zhang, a Canadian practitioner recently released from a Chinese labor camp gave a talk about his illegal imprisonment and torture. The Coalition for Freedom of Belief and Human Rights presented a six-minute video made by independent video experts that analyzes in detail the video of the January 23 self-immolation incident and points out several scenes that strongly suggest foul play by the attending police.

On Saturday morning over 1,500 Falun Gong practitioners gathered at El Pueblo Historical Monument by Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles to hold a group exercise practice, a national press conference and participate in a parade to appeal for peace and human rights for the persecuted Falun Gong practitioners in China. Following the press conference, 1300 practitioners took part in a parade, entitled "Walk for Peace and Human Rights," through the streets of Chinatown. The parade was characteristically colorful, as the practitioners wore yellow t-shirts that read, "China: Stop Persecuting Falun Gong," and carried bright yellow, blue and red banners and balloons. The parade also displayed a majestic height, as there were 37 vertical banners that were nine feet high and three feet wide, which practitioners carried on poles. These banners read, "Falun Dafa" and "Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance." In addition, there were two banners that were 24 feet long, 15 banners that were 12 feet long, 30 smaller ones about four and a half feet long, and one with a falun emblem. Some of the banners urged investigation into the immolation incidents and stated the number of practitioners tortured to death. During the parade eight vans that displayed Falun Gong banners circled the parade. Many shop owners stepped out to watch the marvelous and solemn parade.

The press conference addressed the recent instances of self-immolation and escalated violence against Falun Gong practitioners. The death toll of Falun Gong practitioners at the hands of the Chinese government has increased dramatically this year, having risen to almost 150. Practitioners Ms. Jian Tang, a U.S. citizen arrested in China last year, and Kunlun Zhang gave their testimony of illegal detention and abuse in Chinese labor camps. Veteran journalist Danny Schechter called on the media to grant fair coverage to the Falun Gong persecution. Practitioners read statements of support from senator Barbara Boxer, California congressman George Miller and former mayor of Saratoga, Stan Bogosian.

Just after the Chinatown parade ended, a little over 200 practitioners began a three-mile Walk for Peace and Human Rights through Beverly Hills along the sidewalks of Olympic, Beverly Drive and S. Santa Monica Blvds. Both parades were without incident and were well received by the public and police.

From 4 to 7 p.m., 1000 practitioners gathered at the Los Angeles Chinese Consulate to continue their appeal and hold a candlelight vigil, while another 200 gathered in front of the Federal Building in West L.A., just walking distance to UCLA. There were a few reasons to have the presence of practitioners at the Federal Building. One reason is that we have to appeal to our own government to help us, since the Chinese government is the perpetrator of the persecution. Another reason is that the Federal Building is very visible to the public, as it sits in front of the 405-freeway off- and onramp, while the Chinese Consulate is tucked away from view on a quiet street. Lastly, because the Federal Building is by a university, the pedestrians near the area are open to these kinds of issues. Afterwards, the English speakers had an open forum at UCLA.

On Monday about 130 practitioners practiced the exercises in Santa Monica by the Pier. Some people came to learn the exercises, which was really affirming to those practitioners who made the effort to be present. A group discussion was held simultaneously in Pasadena. After the exercise, about 40 practitioners participated in a small two-mile parade with balloons and four banners through Santa Monica, including the famous Third Street Promenade. Despite it raining for half of the parade, practitioners passed out a lot of flyers to those people under umbrellas.

Practitioners came from all over the world to attend the weekend activities, including the western and eastern United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Australia, Peru, Canada, Sweden and other European countries.

United efforts from practitioners in Southern and Northern California, as well as help from practitioners all over North America, made this conference a great success. In addition, Lupe Martinez from New York joined us to notify the Spanish media about the events and act as the Spanish contact and Carlos Campos of Santa Monica made a special effort to finish the exercise video in Spanish, in order to make it available for the conference. Now, Zhuan Falun, Falun Gong and the exercise video are available in Spanish. Local practitioners deeply appreciate and thank everyone for participating.

February, 2001