A group practicing a modern form of an ancient lifestyle held a rally Sunday in Waldenberg Park to draw attention to China's human rights record.

The group participates in Falun Gong (news - web sites), a spiritual and physical lifestyle currently banned in China.

It is estimated that about 50,000 people are in Chinese prisons for practicing the lifestyle.

Now that Beijing is set to host the 2008 Olympics, group members in the United States are trying to draw attention to China's human rights record.

"We must ask the rest of the world for help," Hongyi Pan, a Falun Gong practitioner, said.

The group is driving from Houston, Texas, to Washington, D.C. as part of a human rights plea.

"The trip is for sending an S.O.S. message to the American people, to ask for urgent attention and help to rescue the practitioners of Falun Gong in China," Pan said.

The followers said that the persecution involves beatings and torture, practices that human rights activists say are common in China.

"I think that one can say that in the past two or three years in China there has been a deterioration in human rights," Arlette Laduguie of Amnesty International said.

Beijing is promising to clean up its act now that the Olympics are coming.

"This will provide an opportunity for the international human rights community and the domestic Chinese human rights community to work together to bring pressure to bear on the Chinese government," Andrew Nathan, a human rights researcher, said.

Falun Gong followers are skeptical, and said that China is historically slow in keeping such promises.

The group which gathered in New Orleans said that more than 250 people have died in the last two years at the hands of the Chinese government for their beliefs, and that 24 new deaths have been reported in the last month alone.

The group's next stop will be Jackson, Miss.