Meditating and practicing their five exercises, a group of Falun Gong members gathered in De la Guerra Plaza on Wednesday hoping to raise awareness about the persecution of their fellow members in China.

The group claims that more than 200 Falun Gong members have been killed as part of a crackdown by the Chinese government, which outlawed the movement it says is an "[Jiang Zemin government's slanderous term omitted]."

But followers say its meditative exercises and principles are designed to improve one's inner self. Their beliefs [...] [have] appealed to a large number of Chinese citizens.

Although government officials say there are now fewer than 80,000 members in China, Falun Gong officials claim tens of millions of members there. The group's leader, Li Hongzhi, lives in exile in New York.

Earlier this month, 45 members of the group deemed "die-hard" followers were sentenced to prison by a Chinese court.

According to a story in the Washington Post last week, one man, accused of renting a safe house to followers and printing leaflets for the group, was sentenced to 13 years. The report said two other men were sentenced to 10 years for making banners and trying to raise them in Tiananmen Square.


Persecution of Falun Gong members has been condemned by human rights groups and the United States government.

On Wednesday, seven members of the group, walking from Los Angeles to San Francisco, stopped in Santa Barbara.

"We're appealing to the world to help stop the persecution in China," said Ping Wang, an assistant to an attorney in Los Angeles who helped organize the event.

Also along for the month long walk is Mingjing Xue, a Falun Gong member who says she was detained for 104 days in China and subjected to torture. Ms. Xue also says she witnessed severe torture of other [group] members.

On Wednesday, the group displayed posters showing members with bruises and burns they say came from beatings at the hands of Chinese officials.