July 18, 2004

Sara Effner of Jamestown sat on the floor of the Boone County Commission Chamber on Friday with four other Falun Gong practitioners. With slow-moving hands, they demonstrated the exercises of Falun Gong after announcing Effner's planned trip to South Africa.

The reported shooting of Falun Gong practitioners in South Africa inspired her to make the trip to raise awareness in the South African government about the Chinese spiritual practice of meditation called Falun Gong.

After studying Falun Gong for four years, Effner, 27, will meet with other supporters in Africa to speak out against what she says is the Chinese government's persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.

"If we don't go there and tell them what Falun Gong is face-to-face, then the Chinese government will bombard them with propaganda," Effner said.

Falun Gong practitioners have filed lawsuits worldwide against news media they feel Chinese officials may have influenced, she said.

Randall Effner, Sara Effner's father and a Falun Gong practitioner, said he is supportive of his daughter's goal to prevent misrepresentation of Falun Gong resulting from pressure placed by the Chinese government. "Through control of the media, they tried to convince people that Falun Gong was not good," he said. "They demonize it."

Concerned about his daughter's safety, Randall Effner would not release the exact day of her departure. "As a father, you can't help but be worried," he said.

The shooting that inspired Sara Effner's trip occurred June 28 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The victims of the shooting were Falun Gong practitioners who had gone there to appeal to the South African government to allow them to file human rights lawsuits against two Chinese government officials. Fellow practitioners believe these officials were involved in the shooting.

Following the shooting in South Africa, Sara Effner said she sees the beginnings of a frightening trend. "They (the Chinese government) have stretched their tentacles of persecution into other countries around the world," Sara Effner said.

While Effner travels to Africa, the other four practitioners who joined her at the county government center on Friday will travel to Washington, D.C., to join the annual international Falun Gong rally and anti-torture exhibition. About 5,000 people attended in 2003. This year's rally marks the fifth year of persecution of Falun Gong, Sara Effner said.

Shimin Zhang, Falun Gong practitioner of three years, said she is going because of the hundreds of thousands who have suffered imprisonment, forced labor, cruel tortures, violent beatings and constant harassment.

"These practitioners, who have withstood such vile treatment and have remained steadfast in their belief in Falun Dafa (Falun Gong), are true heroes," Zhang said.