September 8, 2003

Xiao Yan Liu sits on a small, woven mat in front of William Pitt Union and assumes a meditative position. She holds her arms out to the side, palms to the ground, and closes her eyes. Other Falun Dafa practitioners join her on the ground as they too begin to meditate on the three main principles of this ancient Chinese practice: truth, compassion and tolerance. For now, they are at peace.

Falun Dafa (a.k.a. Falun Gong) is an ancient Chinese meditative practice that has been banned in China since July 1999 when Jiang Zemin, China's president at the time, declared it illegal. Since then, thousands of Falun Dafa practitioners have been imprisoned and subjected to various forms of torture, including brainwashing sessions, force feedings, and regular beatings. One victim of this torture was Xiaomei Jia, the wife of Cailu Xu, a research associate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Jia was arrested for passing out fliers promoting Falun Gong and sent to the Beijing Female Force Labor Camp.

Through local Pittsburgh support and the joined efforts of Congressman Mike Doyle, Pittsburgh Amnesty International Groups, and students of CMU and the University of Pittsburgh, Xiaomei Jia was released last May 3. Congressman Doyle was happy to hear the news.

"I have been concerned about China's brutal human rights abuses for years," said Doyle.

"The Chinese government is ruthless in its efforts to stamp out dissent, criticism, or as in the case of Falun Gong, religious organizations that it doesn't control. So naturally I tried to be as helpful as I could be in Xiaomei Jia's case, and I was pleased and relieved when she was released from prison."

Doyle's contributions to the campaign to free Xiaomei Jia earned him the Conscience and Courage award from the Global Mission to Rescue Persecuted Falun Gong Practitioners, an international human rights organization. The award was presented to him August 22. This victory has brought new confidence to those working to end the inhumane persecution of practitioners in China. But Xiao Yan Liu and other [...]Pittsburgh Falun Dafa Practitioners are disturbed to know that there are more imprisoned Falun Dafa practitioners in China. Until they are freed, Liu says that she will never be at complete peace.

"Since 1999, more than 700 have been tortured to death. The Chinese government controls all the media and they say that Falun Dafa is bad. But I know the truth and I will spend my time to speak to my friends, relatives and the public to clarify the truth," said Liu.

Alok Chatterjee, a senior information systems and economics major, and co-president of the CMU chapter of Amnesty International, is also dedicated to this same justice and works with his peers to continue letter writing campaigns for the freedom of other prisoners like Xiaomei Jia.

"Every time someone gets freed, it is an indication of the effectiveness of our process. Letter writing doesn't seem like the most effective means, but every time someone gets freed, it gives what you do some sort of validation," said Chatterjee.

The CMU chapter of Amnesty International played a large role in stirring up local support for the campaign to free Xiaomei Jia by setting up a large student rally in the University Center towards the end of last spring semester. Xu attended the rally and his personal plea for his wife's freedom became the catalyst for the eventual student movement to rally for Jia's freedom.

With new confidence, the CMU students involved in Amnesty International, the Pittsburgh Falun Gong practitioners, and a young woman by the name of Yeong Ching Foo are now rallying for the freedom of Yeong Ching Foo's fiancée, Charles Li, who is imprisoned in China for planning to broadcast pro-Falun Gong media over the state-run media waves. Though he is a U.S. citizen, the Chinese government is holding him captive and has sentenced him to serve three years there, said Yeong Ching Foo.

"What Charles tried to do is very noble. He did nothing wrong. He should be released immediately," she said.

At a press conference at the University of Pittsburgh last Wednesday, Yeong Ching Foo urged those around her to act and help her free her fiancée, who reported that he already has been beaten and tortured many times.

"Charles is being illegally detained and it has been seven months now. The police have deprived him of sleep and have handcuffed him to try to prevent him from writing a letter of appeal," she said.

In an effort to gain support for Li's freedom, Yeong Ching Foo has been traveling around the country getting signatures from students, local residents, and members of Congress. Although she is tired, Yeong Ching Foo continues to work for Li's freedom and hopes to find peace some day in her fiancée's homecoming.

"There is a lot I have to overcome, but I have to overcome all of my obstacles and think of how I can rescue Charles. It is better for me to work than to cry," said Foo.