(Clearwisdom.net) It is again April 25. Ten years ago on this day, over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners went to the Office of Appeals of the State Council in Beijing to peacefully ask the Chinese government to release dozens of practitioners arrested in Tianjin, to grant Falun Gong practitioners a legal environment to practice, and to allow the publication of Falun Gong books. Then-Premier Zhu Rongji met with representatives of the Falun Gong practitioners and reached a preliminary agreement. This is known as the April 25th Peaceful Appeal.
Throughout the incident, Falun Gong practitioners fully demonstrated the honesty, fearlessness, peacefulness, and rationality of cultivators of Truth-Compassion-Forbearance. They captured the attention of the whole world.
Li Zhihe is a practitioner who participated in the April 25th appeal. Li currently lives in Sweden. On the ten-year anniversary of the event, he recounted his experience during an interview with Clearwisdom reporters. The following is a summary of his recollections.
I still remember vividly what happened on April 25, 1999. I arrived at the State Council's Office of Appeals before 6 a.m. and left after 9 p.m. I stood there for the whole day. I was practicing my right to appeal, a right granted to citizens by the Chinese Constitution.
I should start with how I became a Falun Gong practitioner. I joined the army at the age of 18. I worked on the railroads. I spent seven years in a very harsh environment. I was young at the time, and did not think much of it. As I entered middle age, many physical problems caught up with me. The most obvious problems were lower back pains, numb limbs, and early symptoms of nerve issues. The doctors said if I didn't take good care of myself, I could become completely paralyzed. My illness caused me a lot of hardship in my life and work. Whenever I heard of a good doctor, regardless of location or cost, I would go and seek him or her out.
In October 1997, I began practicing Falun Gong thanks to a friend's introduction. At first, I just wanted to try it out. Within two weeks, my chronic illnesses all disappeared. I know another Falun Gong practitioner named Xie Xiufen. She was paralyzed for 16 years due to a failed medical procedure. Within one year of practicing Falun Gong, she was able to stand up and live like a normal person.
I grew up under China's communist regime and was an atheist. However, my personal experience and that of those around me changed my view. This wonderful practice not only made me healthier but also made my marriage better.
At our local practice site, I learned that dozens of Falun Gong practitioners were beaten and arrested in Tianjin because they went to a magazine's office to talk to the editors about an article that contained false information about Falun Gong. When other Tianjin practitioners visited the magazine's office to ask them to release the arrested practitioners, they were told that they had to appeal in Beijing. When I heard this, I thought I should go to the Office of Appeals in Beijing and tell them my personal experience, so that they would know what Falun Gong was really about. They would know that it was a mistake to arrest the practitioners, and the situation would be rectified. That was why I went to the Office of Appeals before 6 a.m. that morning. When I got there, a lot of people were already there.
There were police at every intersection, as though they all came prepared. Because a lot of people practiced Falun Gong in China at that time, a pretty large number of practitioners came. The space in front of the Office of Appeals was already full, and we moved to the sides. At first the police looked very nervous. However, later they saw that Falun Gong practitioners were all well-behaved, kept good order, did not block traffic at all, and followed police orders. Everyone stood there quietly, waiting for the result of the negotiations. Some people sat down after standing for a long time. There were no radical actions or slogans. No one was shouting. The streets were very clean. Even cigarette butts thrown away by the police were picked up by practitioners. There was not a shred of paper left after the practitioners left. The police saw how the practitioners behaved and were not concerned at all. They started chatting with each other. I heard a passerby ask, "Why are so many people here? What are they doing?" A policeman said, "They are all Falun Gong practitioners. They came here to appeal. This practice is pretty good. My mother-in-law practices this as well. They are all good people."
Several practitioners from my practice site also went. They were all like me: having benefited from the practice, they wanted to explain the true situation. That was why when government photographers started taking videos, the practitioners acted peacefully and rationally and did not try to hide their faces. After Premier Zhu Rongji met with the Falun Gong representatives and reached a preliminary agreement, at about 9 p.m., we left after making sure that the sidewalks were clean.
I remember that at that time the State Council Office and the Central Administrative Office issued a joint notice, stating that the government was not against people engaging in any kind of qigong practice. To our surprise, the Falun Gong practitioners' peaceful actions incited great panic and jealousy in Jiang Zemin. He mislabeled Falun Gong's appeal "besieging Zhongnanhai" (the government compound). On July 20, 1999, he initiated a nationwide persecution against Falun Gong.
Because I participated in the April 25th Appeal and refused to give up practicing Falun Gong, I became a target after the persecution started on July 20. Seeing that I had no other ways to appeal, I went to Tiananmen Square in August 2000. Before I was able to say anything, I was taken to the police station and detained for a day. Then I was handed over to my workplace's management. They watched me all the time. The local police station and residents' council also harassed me frequently. They tapped my phone and followed me. At work, I was treated as an outcast. My workplace had a policy on early retirement. Although I met the criteria for early retirement and applied for it, my request was denied without a reason.
As a beneficiary of Falun Gong, I know that lies can only prevail temporarily. However, the Chinese Communist Party's lies were beyond my imagination. On January 23, 2001, the CCP orchestrated the "Tiananmen Square self-immolations." I was shocked. That morning, as soon as I arrived at work, my boss came to me and said, "This morning the whole area near Tiananmen will be under marshal law, starting at 10 a.m.. You can't go anywhere for a few days, especially Tiananmen." Soon, the "self-immolations" happened. I knew exactly what happened. As everyone saw later, in the video directed by the Chinese government-run TV station, there were only very few people on Tiananmen Square besides the police, firefighters, and the "self-immolators." Why were the self-immolators allowed in the square when it was under marshal law? The video of the self-immolation was also full of holes. This incident confirmed the CCP's evil nature and strengthened my faith in Dafa. Around December 2001, Tang Lie, the CCP Secretary of my workplace, and secretary Wang sent me to a "brainwashing session" held at Xiaotangshan in a suburb of Beijing. I refused to follow their arrangement and escaped. I had to stay away from my home and job for more than 2 weeks.
A few days later, a friend told me that my boss had gotten praise for successfully "transforming" me. I was puzzled. After a little digging, I found out that, after I fled the brainwashing center, Secretary Wang sent a non-practitioner to the center and pretended it was me. Under Chinese Communist Party rule, such fraud is quite commonplace.
I published a statement on the Clearwisdom website to reveal their deceptiion. I stated that no one could pretend to be me. All of the actions done in my name against Falun Gong were null and void.
The 610 Office also harassed my wife, forcing her to give up cultivation by threatening to fire her from her job. They were also going to take her to a brainwashing center to continue to persecute her.
In early 2002, with some friends' help, we left China for Russia quietly.
Shortly afterwards, my friends in China told me that we absolutely could not return. Both of our places of employment had set up special committees to search for us. At first the police waited in front of our apartment 24 hours a day and harassed our friends and family members. Later, they went to my child's school to look for him. Eventually, they went to the immigration bureau and found out that we had gone to Russia. My friends warned me to be careful. Since we could not return to China, we applied for asylum status in Russia. The police in Russia did not know the facts about the persecution and tried to return us to China. With help from the United Nations refugee organizations, we were able to come to Sweden.