June 10, 2003


Practitioners of Falun Gong gathered outside the William Pitt Union last Wednesday to call for the release of American citizen Charles Li, who was arrested in China in January for practicing Falun Gong, according to the group's spokesperson, Emma Jin

With a banner that read, "Truthfulness Compassion Forbearance," a group of Falun Gong practitioners held a press conference Wednesday, June 4th, along the steps of the William Pitt Union. Four women, one man and a child demonstrated the practice of Falun Gong with meditative exercises to the sound of complementary music. Behind their peaceful display were posters and information on "civil rights abuses" which spokesperson Emma Jin said were due to the Chinese government and its "Gestapo-like agency."

The conference focused on American citizen Charles Li, a Falun Gong practitioner, who was arrested in January by the Chinese government when he returned to the country on a family visit.

Jin said the Chinese authorities accused Li of intending to infiltrate Chinese media to speak in favor of Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa.

Li began a hunger strike May 27, after Chinese officials allegedly censored a document he sent to the American government detailing his request to become a plaintiff in the class action lawsuit against former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.

In a phone conversation with his fiancee [Chinese authority never allowed Mr. Li to have phone conversation with his fiancee], Li said that, on May 31, he was force-fed, in addition to the beatings he suffered at the hands of his caretakers, according to Jin. The strike increased the group's concern for Li since 74 practioners have died from forced feedings and 720 from torture, Jin said.

The conference asked for American support of Li and other practioners. Jin urged Americans to write their legislators to request Li's release.

June 3 marked a victory for Falun Gong supporters when practitioner Xiaomei Jia was released from a labor camp, where she was imprisoned since November 2001. In March, Xiaomei's husband, Cailu Xu, spoke at Carnegie Mellon University with Amnesty International in hopes of gaining American support. As a result, Congressman Mike Doyle and Pittsburgh City Councilman William Peduto were particularly active in aiding Xiaomei's release and getting her a visa and passport.

Cailu demonstrated with the other practitioners at the June 4 conference. Wearing a shirt stating, "Falun Gong is good," Jin spoke of his wife's plans to come to America.

The Chinese government has considered Falun Gong a crime since 1999, by order of Jiang.

"We used to go out and practice in parks," Jin said, "but now we must do it in hiding."

Jin commented that she did not know the current number of practitioners in China, but that, before the persecution, the government estimated they numbered between 70 and 100 million. The government felt threatened, she said, because there were more Falun Gong practitioners than members of the Communist party when Jiang's order came.

Indicating what would happen if a demonstration like Wednesday's occurred in China, Jin showed photos of a 1997 Tinamen Square arrest [it should be after 1999, when the persecution started], in which police used fire extinguishers on the demonstrators and threw unidentifiable objects that, Jin said, "you can clearly see are hitting the people."

Jin also said the practitioners arrested that day have never been seen again. Those arrested since the order, she said, are often detained in prisons and labor camps, where they have little or no contact with family members.

According to the Falun Gong database, Falun Gong is related to traditional Chinese practices of exercise and meditation and has been in practice for thousands of years. It is now practiced in over 50 countries.