Attendees of the UN Anti-Torture Day's Event on June 26 at the University of South Florida included Tampa Bay Falun Gong practitioners, officers from the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the university communities, and a reporter from St. Pete Times. Presentations included some Falun Gong practitioners who shared their true experience in practicing Falun Gong, and their personal testimony of persecution suffered in China. An introduction tape of Falun Gong, and a documentary film titled "Human Rights Violations," exposed the persecution against Falun Gong in China quite vividly. Representatives from the local office of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and the ISSS (International Students and Scholars Services) advisor also gave speeches expressing their concerns about the unjust treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China, and offered their support. The ISSS advisor said that many Chinese students had been to their office due to the persecution, with concerns about the impact on the students and their families in China and abroad. ISSS staff members are well aware of, and will continue watching the situation in China. They said that the ISSS office would always be open to students who want to discuss the issue or seek help. They all expressed hope that the persecution will end immediately.

Afterwards we hosted a Q&A session; many people stayed to participate in the open discussion.

Below is a speech given on this event by Lisa Raphael, who is a mental health counselor, seminar leader, and an author who has lectured and presented seminars throughout the U.S. She is a survivor of the Holocaust.

Speech of Lisa Raphael

My name is Lisa Raphael.

As a survivor of the Holocaust, I could never have imagined that I would find myself at a public meeting in support of a practice whose central symbol is the swastika!

Due to my personal history, the swastika in the past has only reminded me of mine, and my family's persecution at the hand of the Nazis. Yet I am here today BECAUSE of the swastika and what it truly represents.

I've been an active seeker of spiritual truth for more than 20 years. I was drawn to the peace and calm of the practice of Falun Gong intuitively, as I watched practitioners in the park near my home. Initially, the discovery that the central symbol is a swastika was alarming. But now I understand the profound implications.

The practice of Falun Gong revolves around the principles of truth, compassion and tolerance.

The Nazis took an ancient symbol-- it has been found carved in caves as old as 20,000 years ago - and distorted it just as they distorted the truth of everything they touched. The Nazi version of the swastika is the reverse of the original, ancient one. The original swastika, which is at the center of the Falun Gong emblem -has been associated with good fortune, well-being, the sun, and the light of spiritual truth for thousands of years. It frequently appears on statues of the Buddha. In fact the swastika in sanskrit means literally, well-being, positive being. The reverse swastika in sanskrit represents darkness, misfortune, and suffering.

There is a kind of profound symmetry in the circumstance that the reversed swastika of the Nazis - true to its sanskrit meaning... symbolizes the persecution and suffering of innocents for the purpose of suppressing any truth that did not agree with the "party line"...

And that the principles of the original swastika, the principles of truth, compassion and tolerance at the heart of Falun Gong are bringing forth similar persecution and torture of those who do not agree with the current "party line" in China.

I'm here tonight not because I need to hear any more about persecution and torture of innocent victims of totalitarian regimes. I have lived through enough of this directly and indirectly that I frankly would rather have nothing more to do with it. But I cannot, either, NOT stand up in support of the victims of such torture and persecution.

The persecution in Europe could never have happened if the rest of the world had not stayed blind to it. Most countries, including this one, ignored the reports and accounts of these persecutions, out of short-sightedness. "What has this to do with us?" we said.

"That is going on over there. Besides, probably they have good reason to be cracking down on all those people. The Third Reich is a powerful ally and wonderful trading partner. What they are doing in their own countries is not our business."

Today, with the improved communications, it is not as easy to stay blind to what is going on, or to ignore the reports. But it is just as easy to think it has nothing to do with me, or us.

The principle behind the growing number of memorials and programs that honor Holocaust Victims is "never again." But it IS happening again, and has continued to happen.

We must not stay blind this time.

We must not kid ourselves into thinking that what happens elsewhere in the world is not our business.

I urge each of you to do whatever you can to protest the actions of the Chinese government towards practitioners of Falun Gong.

One voice CAN count.

Several voices together CAN make a difference.

Thank you.