Falun Gong [practitioners] held a news conference at City Hall Park yesterday as part of a campaign demanding freedom for Charles Li, a Chinese-American imprisoned in China.

[Practitioners] also rallied and collected signatures at Brooklyn Supreme Court and at UN Plaza yesterday. The actions were part of a coast-to-coast campaign that started in mid-August at Li's home in California and is scheduled to end Sept. 16 in Washington.

Li was arrested Jan. 22 at the airport in Guangzhou, China, and charged with sabotaging state-owned radio and television facilities. Chinese authorities said Li carried cable TV interception tools.

Practitioners describe Falun Gong as an exercise and meditation system based on ancient Chinese wisdom. [...]

"It was his purpose to break through the media blockade," Jian Feng Zhou, a fellow Falun Gong [practitioner], said of Li. "The Chinese government does not allow people to know that the Falun Gong practice is based on compassion, truth and tolerance. They make propaganda to [defame Falun Gong]."

Zhou, 33, who was a doctor in China and now lives in Elmhurst, Queens, also said 800 people had been killed by the Chinese authorities for practicing Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual discipline founded in 1992.


However, Falun Gong[practitioner] said Li was "rushed through a one-day show trial" and was abused in prison.

"They would use various ways to break you," said Gang Chen, 31, a former labor camp prisoner who came to the United States six weeks ago. He recalled his 18 months in a forced-labor camp between 2000 and 2002 as "the darkest moments" of his life. He was able to sleep very little, forced to work 15 to 20 hours a day.

"Dr. Charles Li has sought to bring greater transparency and visibility to a systemic persecution that is killing people every day," said Chen, who now lives in Cherry Hill, N.J.

"A Chinese prison is the last place that this heroic American belongs," he said.

Originally published on September 9, 2003