Sunday, July 20, 2003

Dozens of Bay Area Falun Gong practitioners gathered in Union Square on Saturday, the eve of the fourth anniversary of China's ban of the spiritual movement, demanding that the ban be lifted and that members jailed in China -- including Dr. [Charles] Lee of Menlo Park -- be freed.

Saturday's gathering coincided with a similar protest in Washington, D.C., where hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil in preparation for a large rally Tuesday in front of the Capitol building.

For local practitioners, the anniversary is especially meaningful because of the imprisonment of Lee, 37, who was arrested in China in January and sentenced to three years in Nanjing Prison in March. Under balmy skies, members displayed photos of Falun Gong persecution, practiced exercises and

solicited signatures for a petition decrying the ban.

Lee's imprisonment "has brought this persecution close to home," Sherry Zhang, a spokeswoman for the local Falun Gong movement, said at the gathering. "When it happens to someone close to you, it hurts."

Lee, also known as Charles Li, operates a Chinese herbal medicine business in Menlo Park. According to his fiancee, Yeong-Ching Foo of Santa Clara, Lee has been abused repeatedly, has been forced to undergo re-education sessions and has been denied outside contact. He has been force fed, beaten by fellow inmates and, at one point, dragged down a flight of stairs, she said.

"They're trying to transform him, to get him to renounce Falun Gong," said Foo, who was among about 200 Bay Area members who traveled to Washington for he anniversary.

Foo called upon the U.S. government to intervene in the case of Lee, who is a U.S. citizen. Chinese authorities charged him with attempting to broadcast information about Falun Gong on state-run television.

In February, 82 members of Congress, including Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Atherton, petitioned the Chinese government for the release of Lee. They said he was being persecuted because of his [spiritual] beliefs.