Saturday, March 22, 2003

TROY -- A group of local residents are petitioning for an American's constitutional rights, but the persecuted is far from the country that granted him these freedoms.

Dr. Charles Li of Menlo Park, of California returned to his home land of China on Jan. 22 to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family, but the second he stepped off the plane he was detained by authorities. He was shipped 1,000 miles away to a prison and was eventually sentenced to three years.

Li was supposedly imprisoned because he is a practitioner of Falun Gong, an ancient Chinese "cultivation" practice, which is similar to Tai Chi or Yoga, but with spiritual components.

The Chinese government banned it in 1999 and punishes practitioners within its borders with imprisonment in mental hospitals and work camps where they are often tortured and even killed. More than 100,000 individuals have been detained in China, but Li is the first American to be sentenced to prison.

Falun Gong has a steady following in the area and some local practitioners who know Li are in the process of gathering petitions to send to U.S. government officials. They are hoping the signatures will show the government that Americans are unhappy with the Chinese persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong.

Xueyuan Wu, a post-doctorate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where the group was collecting signatures Friday, is very familiar with Li's situation, her mother is also in detention in China. She is working to call attention not only to Li's imprisonment, but to all who are detained in China because of their Falun Gong practice.

"The more support we get and the more voice are heard, the better the chance our government officials will pay attention and rescue them," Wu said.

Wu, who has communicated with legislators such as Rep. Michael McNulty, D-Green Island, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said they have expressed their concern on the issue with the Chinese ambassador.

She realizes that the government has a full plate with the war in Iraq right now, but she is hoping they will continue to see the importance of this issue especially since it now involves one of their citizens.

"In China this is another kind of terrorism, it should be noticed and some actions should be taken against it," she said.

Wu said those who want to help should contact their state senators.