The coast-to-coast drive to release a University alumnus from a Chinese prison made a stop at the University yesterday to collect signatures for the petitions it will present to the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C.


Falun Gong is a practice of meditation and exercises, built upon the values of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance, according to University student Dongdong Zhang.

In July 1999 it was outlawed by former leader of China Jiang Zemin because of the movement's rapid expansion. Many believe Li was arrested because he was a Falun Gong practitioner.

"Charles went (to China) because he knew that the law was unjust," said Jason Wang, a Falun Gong practitioner from Texas. "He wanted to help the people there."

Since Li's arrest, friends and family have been involved in many efforts to plead for Li's return. In March, a rally was held in front of the U.S. State Department and 30,000 signatures were collected to give officials, said Li's fiancee, Yeong-Ching Foo. Foo said she visited Washington, D.C. four times and approached U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo R-Ca., who wrote a letter signed by two other congressmen to ask for Li's release.

Foo flew to the University to help with the rally Thursday, but is not involved with the drive. She has remained in California to gain support from citizens there. According to a press release, the drive began August 13 at San Francisco City Hall and continued through Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. Other teams departed from Utah and drove through Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. Additional stops included Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia, Foo said.

The drive's purpose is to raise the awareness that a U.S. citizen is being illegally detained and tortured in China, Wang said. He said 90 percent of the Americans he has approached with the petitions so far have signed them.

"American people are very righteous and kind-hearted," he said. "This is really very great."

There has been a lot of support from all levels of officials, said Yu Hubert Zhou, a University of Chicago alumnus and Falun Gong practitioner. The Chicago City Council, state Congress and Senate passed resolutions in support of Falun Gong practitioners, Zhou said. At the rally, Zhou read a speech on behalf of U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill. Johnson said he supports Falun Gong's freedom of religion and hopes that Charles Li will be released.

"(The University) has been very supportive about getting Charles back," Foo said.

Student Peace Action, a University group that focuses on issues related to peace and social justice, showed their support by distributing flyers on Quad Day. Sophomore in LAS Kate Stepanski represented the action group at the rally Thursday, delivering a speech that spoke out against the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners detained in China.

"In order to stop the suffering inflicted upon Charles Li and other Falun Gong followers there must be an international movement against oppressive governmental systems and inhumane treatment of all people," she said.

Other countries have also supported the Li case through their protests, Foo said. She said they collected 2000 signatures in Korea.

Canada appealed in front of the U.S. Embassy, and hunger strikes were held at Chinese consulates in locations including Washington D.C. and Montreal to help the release effort, Foo said.

She also said she believes the expansion of press on Li's case and the increased support by the American people have helped improve Li's condition in prison.

Foo's speech at the rally yesterday informed people of Li's condition since his detainment. Foo said Li had been physically abused, deprived of sleep, handcuffed for extended periods of time and forced to attend brainwashing sessions.

"Charles has carried out many hunger strikes to protest for his illegal detention, physical and mental torture," Foo said in her speech.

In response to hunger strikes, guards force-fed Li numerous times and left a tube in his stomach from the nose for hours, she added. Since the drive began, guards have stopped force-feeding him, but inmates still watch him 24 hours a day, Foo said.

"I cannot talk to him directly," she said. Li wrote a letter following the 96-page letter sent to the U.S. consulate, which told of physical abuse and defended his case, but his guards forbid it to be sent, Foo said.

"Charles is one of the top three cases," said Foo. Zhao Ming, a Chinese citizen, was detained for two years before he was rescued, she said. "Before they released him they shocked him with six electric batons until he renounced Falun Gong."

The return of Nancy Chan, an Australian citizen and Falun Gong practitioner, is another promising case. Chan was returned to her country within 10 days due to coverage by the media and Australian support, said Foo.

"We still haven't had a strong enough voice (for Li) from the U.S.," said Zhou.

Charles' case is important because it has revealed "the truth" to many Chinese people who were not convinced of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, Foo said. "A lot of Chinese people had a change of mind."