Tuesday, July 22, 2003
WASHINGTON -- Protesters descended on Capitol Hill yesterday, demanding the Chinese government release from prison Charles Li, a former Cambridge resident who practices Falun Gong, a meditation exercise that is outlawed in China.
Li, an American citizen who lives in Menlo Park, Calif., was arrested Jan. 24 after arriving in the southern city of Guangzhou on a flight from California. In March, the Chinese government sentenced him to three years in prison, charging that he intended to tap into the state-run TV system.
Li, 37, reportedly planned to broadcast informational videos about Falun Gong. The practice has been banned in China [...] for four years.
Li's connections to the Cambridge area go back to the early 1990s, when he was a medical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. Li moved to Menlo Park in 2000.
The marchers contend that Li is innocent of the charges against him. Protest organizers estimated that 5,000 people participated in the demonstration.
The Chinese government ''calls it sabotaging a television station,'' said Dan Chen, a Falun Gong practitioner from Boston who participated in the demonstration. ''It wasn't sabotaging. Everything the Chinese government [airs] is slander. Everything's anti-Falun Gong.''
''He went to China in the hope of broadcasting the truth of Falun Gong to the Chinese people,'' said Allen Zeng, a friend of Li's from San Jose, Calif. ''It was justified and courageous. He should be free.''
Falun Gong, sometimes referred to as Falun Dafa, is a custom that has spread worldwide since 1992, when it was introduced, according to the Friends of Falun Gong, a New Jersey organization. The organization says the practice emphasizes the use of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance in everyday life.
Zeng practiced Falun Gong for three years with Li and called him ''a great man.''
''He is a very quiet man,'' Zeng said. ''I didn't know he had so much courage.''
Peter Houben of the Netherlands said he had traveled from Europe to march because of the lack of worldwide recognition about the persecution of those who practice Falun Gong in China.
''I feel pained when I read the news about my fellow practitioners in China,'' he said. ''I can practice in Holland and everywhere in the world -- but not in China.''