Sunday, September 2, 2001

DAYTON--Practitioners of a traditional Chinese form of meditation and exercise hardly appear to be enemies of the state.

Yet hundreds of Chinese have died and thousands have been tortured since 1999 because of their adherence to Falun Gong, which teaches truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.

About a dozen practitioners from Ohio and northern Kentucky sat in the lotus position in front of the Federal Building downtown Saturday to draw attention to human rights abuses and to call for the release of 130 followers on a hunger strike at the Masanjia labor camp in China.

Some of the followers are taking part in the 360-mile SOS Walk for Justice through Ohio that started Wednesday in Cincinnati and will end Sept. 17 in Cleveland.

Rick Carne, an aide to U.S. Rep. Tony Hall, D-Dayton, said Hall was "very worried and very concerned" about China's continued monitoring of Falun Gong practitioners. Carne urged citizens to contact their representatives to support House Resolution 188, which calls for the Chinese government to cease persecution of the 70 million practitioners in that country. There are an estimated 100 million followers worldwide.

The resolution says the persecution violates China's constitution, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Carne told listeners to contact President Bush, who will travel to China in October to meet with China's President Jiang Zemin.

Dr. Sunny Lu, a psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati, said the Chinese government has 610 offices throughout China used to monitor the activities of practitioners. Followers who exercise publicly are often detained, taken to mental hospitals, given heavy doses of drugs, tortured and brainwashed, Lu said.

The form of meditation and exercise was introduced publicly in 1992 and quickly became popular.

At least 270 followers have died since July 20, 1999, when the government intervened, she said. Deaths almost always are attributed to suicide, she said, and practitioners labeled mentally ill.

"It's typical of Chinese persecution of minority groups who do not agree with the communist government and total mind control," Carne said. "There is no reason to fear Falun Gong. It is a gentle, gentle way of living."

He said Hall is against open trading with China, and said there is no way to know what products bought by U.S. consumers are made in Chinese prison camps by political prisoners.

Among those meditating and exercising Saturday was Jesse Xie, 10, a fifth-grader from Fort Thomas, Ky.

"It's really peaceful. It improves your health and tells you to be a good person," said Jesse, who has been practicing Falun Gong two hours a day for four years. "It helps me stay calm and not get angry."

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