February 17, 2003

ROWLAND HEIGHTS -- More than 75 people marched down Colima Road on Monday to bring attention to the plight of a Chinese-American man imprisoned in China.

The march concluded a weekend of public appeals for the release of Charles Li of Menlo, and 37 other prisoners in Chinese labor camps for practicing Falun Gong, a self-cultivation practice claiming to increase mental and physical well-being.

Marchers carried banners bearing the Chinese characters "truthfulness,' "forbearance' and "compassion' the discipline's three principles.

Marchers want to gather support from local governments and inform communities what Falun Gong is, said spokeswoman Gina Sanchez.

"We're hoping to get more support from Americans with the strength of our message,' Sanchez said.

China officially banned Falun Gong in July 1999. Practitioners like Li have been detained, [under fabricated charges and tortured during police custody].

About 1,000 practitioners walked through Chinatown on Sunday to Los Angeles City Hall. That march ended with candlelight vigils at the Chinese Consulate and the Federal Building.

Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi spoke publicly at the Anaheim Convention Center on Saturday [...], Sanchez said.

"We truly have witnessed it for ourselves that (Falun Gong) has been [defamed and slandered] in China,' Sanchez said.

San Gabriel resident Chun Pu Ma, 82, was detained for three days without food or sleep in 1999. While in captivity, Ma was given an ultimatum: Give up Falun Gong or stay imprisoned. She was freed when family members agreed to the conditions without her knowledge.

"I was hurt by the experience,' Ma said through an interpreter. "I could not accept it. I want to tell people the truth about Falun Gong with my life because I am a beneficiary of it.'

Ma says Falun Gong helped her survive 10 diseases, including high blood pressure and tumors in her uterus.

Nancy Chan, a 35-year-old accountant from Australia, was detained the same day as Li. Through intense intervention from the Australian consulate, Chan was released after a week.

"I went to China to visit my family,' she said. "People followed me all day from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. I was so scared all night.'

Chan still doesn't know how the Chinese government knew she practiced Falun Gong.

"I feel very sad,' she said. "The American government is important. They are the only way Charles Li can be helped.'

Cui Ying Zhang, an Australian citizen and artist, was jailed for eight months on March 2000. Through an interpreter, she relayed that she was shackled to the floor, forbidden to go outside and forced to labor for hours on products China imports, like Christmas tree lights and costume jewelry.

"I told them, when I go outside China, I will tell the people outside of what I know,' she said.