Publication date: 02/15/2002

Five Bay Area residents were among about 40 foreigners removed from Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Thursday for protesting the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.

They were hauled away by police as they held up banners and chanted "Falun Dafa is Good" amid throngs of tourists and locals celebrating Chinese New Year. The demonstration in support of the banned [group's] followers was the fourth and largest attempt to date involving foreigners.

Before their departure Sunday, the local protesters, ranging in age from 23 to 45, videotaped statements explaining why they were walking straight into the dragon's lair.

Among them are a software engineer, a mother and a surveyor who works for The City.

"I am not against China, neither am I against the Chinese government," said Steve Ispas, a 33-year-old marketing consultant from Sunnyvale. "In fact, I love the Chinese culture and the Chinese people. This peaceful appeal is especially for the tens of millions of Chinese who are being persecuted."

Local Falun Gong practitioners said they last heard from the group in Beijing on Wednesday evening via cellphone, but saw on the late-night news that the protesters had been arrested. Since then, they have had no contact.

The arrests were brutal and violent, said Falun Dafa Information Center spokeswoman Sherry Zhang. Police punched, kicked and beat protestors before throwing them into mini vans, she said.


Among those who made the trek to Beijing to participate in the protest were Lee, 23, of San Jose, Carai, 45, of Santa Clara, Kute, 23, a student from San Rafael, and Lu, 34, of Daly City.

Lu is a Chinese born in Vietnam who works as a surveyor for The City. "I will go alone or with a group of people," he said in his taped statement. "I will go with a pure mind."

Lee, a marketing consultant and mother of one, said she first learned of Falun Gong in high school. "What kind of world would my son grow up in?" she said. "Could I just watch while others sacrificed for my rights while I did nothing?"

"Going there is beyond any personal, social or political interest," said Carai, a software engineer for Cisco Systems. "The reason I am doing this is because I believe that people should have the right to live their life in a dignified manner."

Waiting anxiously for word of Ispas, his mother, Juliana, said she couldn't tell a grown son what to do. She saw him off at the airport along with Carai, but could not sleep that night.

"I cannot tell you too much about my feelings because this is normal for a mother to be worried about her son, even though he's doing the right thing," she said.

In a letter to the Chinese ambassador, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, asked for the release of the protesters and urged that the Chinese not allow the events to cast a shadow on President Bush's visit to Beijing next week.

Human rights monitors have also contacted the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, asking that protesters be released.

In the past, foreign protesters have been briefly detained and then expelled from the country.

Falun Gong, advocates said, is a peaceful practice that involves breathing and posture exercises that perpetuate truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. Some claim to have been healed from cancer by it and swear to its health benefits.


Falun Gong activists based in New York said about 14 Europeans were detained in their hotel rooms before making it to the square.

Practitioners are willing to risk their lives, said Falun Gong activist Alicia Zhao, for the sake of their children.

"We want our future generation to live in an environment of justice," she said. "If we don't do it, who will do it?"