September 3, 2003


Yeong-Ching Foo has spent weeks driving across America, but her thoughts are trapped with her fiancé in a tiny Chinese prison cell.

Ms. Foo and several supporters gathered in front of Government Center downtown yesterday to share the story of her fiancé, Charles Li. He was imprisoned in January for planning to publicize how the Chinese government persecutes members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

The group of activists is touring the country to get public support for the release of Dr. Li, an American citizen. They pass out informational flyers, circulate petitions, and demonstrate the yoga-like movements associated with the Falun Gong.

"My fiancé is trying to expose human rights violations," Ms. Foo, 30, said. "His action is very courageous. He is risking his life for the lives of others."

Chinese authorities arrested Dr. Li as soon as he landed at an airport in southern China about seven months ago. In March, a Chinese court sentenced him to three years in prison for plotting to interrupt Chinese television broadcasts with tapes criticizing the government's crackdown on Falun Gong.

In a letter that Dr. Li sent from prison, he said police have beaten him and left him handcuffed for days at a time, causing him extreme pain.

Dr. Li is one of hundreds [of thousands] Falun Gong practitioners who are in jail in China. The Chinese government banned the movement in 1999 after about 10,000 Falun Gong members staged a protest at Tiananmen Square in China's capital.

Millions of people practice Falun Gong in China. They believe that slow exercises improve health and allow spiritual meditation.

Two local women who supported Ms. Foo at Government Center said the Chinese government has harassed their relatives because they practice Falun Gong.

Fang Fang, an engineer at Dana Corp. who lives in Sylvania, said she has been doing Falun Gong exercises for several years. She learned about Falun Gong from her mother, who lives in Beijing.

"She still practices Falun Gong at home, but she can't tell anybody," Ms. Fang said. "I can't imagine that these physical exercises cause so much trouble."

Ms. Fang said Chinese police regularly visit her mother's home to intimidate her into stopping Falun Gong practices. Once, they confiscated her mother's identification card, making it difficult for her to travel.

Wang Yu of Toledo said her family had had similar experiences in China. A few years ago, police searched her family's apartment and detained her mother at the police station, forcing her to watch government-made videos about the "evils" of the Falun Gong movement.

"I want to rescue all the Falun Gong practitioners in China," Ms. Yu said. "They just want to be good people."

Amnesty International officials said the Chinese government continues to put thousands of suspected Falun Gong practitioners in jail because they fear any organized group could pose a threat to the Communist government.

"They have been singled out, and it's an intense crackdown," T. Kumar, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director for Asia, said. "At least 400 or 500 people have died in prison from torture and other issues."

Since they began touring last month, Ms. Foo and her supporters have collected signatures from people all over the country.

The group is scheduled to end the trip Sept. 16 in Washington, where they will present petitions calling for Dr. Li's release to the State Department.

Several congressmen and city council members from around the nation have written letters in Dr. Li's behalf.

"We've had a lot of letters of support asking for his release," Ms. Foo said. "We're just praying and trying to get him out."