Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Friends of Charles Li, a U.S. citizen who has been in a Chinese prison for more than a month, were in Napa Monday night to muster attention for his release.

The group claims that Li, of Menlo Park, was arrested when going to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family in China because his name was a on a "blacklist" of Falun Gong practitioners. Li was arrested at the Guanzhou airport and accused of sabotage [false charges], which could lead to a 15-year prison sentence, the group claims.

"This is an issue for all Americans," said Kathy Zhang of San Jose. "Charles' arrest violates his freedom of religion. We feel everybody in the country should know about it."

The group was in front of Napa City Hall early Monday evening holding placards that read, "Free Charles Li" and passed out literature to pedestrians. They were in Santa Rosa earlier Monday afternoon and will travel to Sacramento today.

"We really think all of this can make a difference," said Steve Ispas of Newark.

"We will collect signatures and pass out pamphlets to let people know about Charles. We think every person we can talk to counts. Politicians listen when people write them letters."

Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, was banned by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in 1999 . The Falun Dafa Information Center Website says it is a practice of meditation and exercises that were taught in private for thousands of years before Li Hongzhi made it public in 1992.

According to the Website, over 100 million people in China practice it and hundreds of thousands have been detained and sentenced to labor camps since its ban.

Ispas said he and five others from the Bay Area went to Tianamen Square in Beijing to meditate in front of a banner stating the three principles of Falun Gong: "Truth, Compassion, Tolerance." The group of Americans was then beaten and arrested before being released a day later, Ispas said.

"As Americans we are able to come here and speak our voice but in China people would be jailed and tortured for doing this," Zhang said.