April 4, 2003

Pomona senior Leeshai Lemish is gathering signatures and holding rallies at the Claremont Colleges and throughout the state of California in an attempt to free U.S. citizen Charles Li from a Chinese prison.

Li was sentenced to three years in a Chinese prison on March 21 [under false charge], a charge that his fiancée Yeong-Ching Foo says is based on his practice of Falun Gong, a popular Chinese spiritual movement banned by Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin in 1999 and a target of persecution ever since, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Detained on January 22 upon arrival to the Guangdong airport in Southern China, Li was held without bail for over a month [...].

"The trial was a show trial," said Foo in an interview with The Student Life. "No Chinese lawyer can defend a Falun Gong member without a 'guilty' verdict. You can't tell the truth from what he says while he is in prison."


While Foo maintains that Li went to China solely to visit his parents, both she and Lemish insist that if Li had been planning to [publicly] broadcast information about Falun Gong persecution, such an act would have been justified by the repression and human rights abuses that these practitioners suffer in China.

"He hadn't mentioned any plans to do that sort of thing," said Foo. "But if he was, he would be an American hero."

Lemish agreed. "He's a human rights hero regardless of what he's done," he said, "and we'll keep trying to let the U.S. public know about him."

Lemish, who practices Falun Gong himself and is a close personal friend of Foo, has helped to create a public pressure campaign within the U.S. demanding Li's release. In recent weeks, he has spoken at Falun Gong and human rights events in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Claremont, and contacted members of Congress to ask for their help in freeing Li.

Such pressure has had mixed success in bringing knowledge of Li's detention to the general public. In late February, 82 members of Congress signed a letter to the Chinese Embassy of the United States demanding Li's immediate release, and several major newspapers including The Washington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle covered the case.

Still, however, Leeshai says he has had difficulty publicizing what he calls the persecution of not only Li, but tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in China. While admitting that he believed coverage of the war in the Persian Gulf was hindering efforts to get Li's story into the news, Leeshai said that Falun Gong persecution has often been underreported in the past. "There hasn't been sufficient media coverage, in my view, at any time in the four years since human rights abuses began," he said.

Despite Li's conviction, Leeshai says he will continue to protest and petition for as long as it takes. In addition to national press and speaking engagements, Lemish has been circulating petitions for Li's release within the Claremont colleges. "Hundreds are already signed, and there will be more unless Charles is released soon," he said, adding that public pressure was crucial to getting Li out of China safely. "If we forget about him, he could be tortured to death in a minute," Lemish concluded.