Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Despite the rain on Thursday evening, March 20, about 40 people gathered at the New England Holocaust Memorial for a candlelight vigil calling attention to China's illegal detention of U.S. citizen and Falun Gong practitioner Charles Li, and the Jiang regime's policy of genocide toward Falun Gong.

Rows of carefully placed lanterns illuminated the walkways, as the lines of silent supporters meditated on damp mats or listened to the personal experiences of New Englanders touched by the persecution of their friends and families thousands of miles away in China. Meina Xu, a student at Northeastern University, spoke personally about Charles, whom she has known for years. In addition, Meina described her own situation: "As an overseas Falun Gong practitioner, I can totally understand Charles for wanting to return to China to see his family. ... Two months ago, the breast cancer that my mother had in 1985 migrated to the lymph nodes around her neck ... I haven't seen her for almost five years. As you can imagine, she misses me very much. As the only child in the family, I want to take good care of her and take the risk to see her one last time, but my mother's last wish is to ask me stay in the U.S. because of the severe persecution I would face because of my belief in Falun Gong. She asked me to promise not to go back to China no matter what happened to her in the future. She'd rather die with pity than worrying about my safety."

Since its founding, the People's Republic of China has suppressed China's own cultural traditions and values as well as any popular movements or practices, independent of the government. The world has witnessed the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, the suppression of the pro-democracy movement that culminated in the Tiananmen Massacre, and the persecution of home-based Christians, as well as other religious and ethnic groups, workers and peasants.

Since July 1999, the Jiang Zemin regime has directed a brutal campaign to eliminate Falun Gong, a traditional self-improvement system originating in China and freely practiced in over 50 countries. Also known as Falun Dafa, the practice includes meditation and exercises with teachings based on the universal principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance.

Jiang Zemin outlawed the practice after government estimates put the number of practitioners as high as 100 million, outnumbering Communist Party members. Unable to crush the spirit of millions who had experienced positive life changes from Falun Gong, the regime intensified its propaganda campaign to turn public opinion against the practice while quietly imprisoning, torturing, and even murdering those who practice it. At least 630 individual cases of death in police custody have been documented and many insiders regard this as a conservative estimate. Hundreds of thousands have been forced into brainwashing centers, mental hospitals, and labor camps, where many have been tortured to renounce their beliefs.

China's assault on Falun Gong has extended to foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens. On January 22, 2003, Chinese agents arrested Charles Li, an American citizen and doctor of medicine, when he returned to China to visit his parents. On March 21, after two months in isolation, he was subjected to a show trial in a Chinese court. There were no formal charges against him. According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, "Chinese authorities initially accused Dr. Li of 'sabotaging TV and/or radio equipment,' and threatened to sentence him to as many as 15 years in prison. In recent weeks, however, ...while Dr. Li's case gained public awareness and support worldwide, the charge [of 'sabotaging TV and/or radio equipment'] was diminished to 'preparing' to sabotage." He was sentenced to three years in prison. Dr. Li has maintained that the Chinese government is targeting him simply because he practices Falun Gong.

Undoubtedly, Charles is on China's blacklist of overseas Falun Gong practitioners. On several occasions in 2002, during Jiang's visits to Iceland and Hong Kong, practitioners whose names appeared on such blacklists were denied entry or prohibited from boarding planes in many international airports, including Logan Airport.

In the U.S., individual Falun Gong plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Jiang Zemin and other top officials, charging them with genocide and torture. According to Swiss attorney Philip Grant, the persecution of Falun Gong violates the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which China signed and ratified. According to Grant, lawsuits are soon to follow in other countries as a worldwide coalition forms to bring Jiang Zemin to justice.

If you'd like to help to end the persecution, please contact the U.S. State Department, your Senators and Representatives, and the Chinese Embassy. A brief note, fax or phone call urging the release of Dr. Li and an end to the persecution of Falun Gong can be very effective. Every voice helps. The concerted efforts of public officials and private citizens in Australia, Canada, and Ireland have been successful in rescuing Falun Gong practitioners from detention in China.