(Minghui.org) “Tianjin City practitioners were arrested one day and Beijing practitioners could be arrested the next, including me. That [arresting practitioners] was wrong since Falun Gong practitioners were a group of people who improved themselves to be better citizens. I could not let this continue, so I decided to go to Beijing to protest,” said Ms. Li Yan (a pseudonym), explaining why she and other practitioners went to the Beijing Appeals Office on April 25, 1999.
Early warning signs
Even before April 25, 1999, Ms. Li had already noticed something unusual was happening. During group exercises in the morning, she heard that police were harassing many practice sites nationwide. This included police agents standing nearby to watch, recording each practitioner’s name, and even using sprinkler trucks to spray water on practitioners when they closed their eyes during the sitting meditation.
Ms. Li was born in the 60s, so this type of thing was not totally new to her. It was similar to what the CCP always used prior to its various political campaigns. Nevertheless, she did not expect that the CCP was about to launch another harsh political movement. After all, it was the end of 1990s and, in many respects, the society was different from the way it used to be.
April 25: Hearing about the arrests and going to appeal
On the morning of April 25, Ms. Li went to the practice site for group exercise as usual. Before the exercise music started, one practitioner showed up on a bicycle. He said that the Tianjin practitioners who had gone to appeal several days earlier had been arrested. When other practitioners went to request their release, officials said it was an order from the authorities and told them to contact higher officials in Beijing. He said that some practitioners had decided to go to the appeals office and explain to the central government officials. Then he left.
Although local practitioners were surprised to hear this, they were not shocked, because they had heard about the mistreatment of practitioners in different regions nationwide. Most practitioners felt they needed to inform the central government about this. Ms. Li thought that if the Tianjin City practitioners were arrested one day then Beijing practitioners could be arrested the next, including herself. She knew the CCP was wrong, since Falun Gong practitioners were a peaceful group of people who improved themselves to be better citizens. She knew she could not just sit by and let this continue, so she decided to go to Beijing to appeal.
Along with other practitioners, Ms. Li believed the arrest took place because the officials did not know the facts. She thought that once the officials knew practitioners were simply trying to be better citizens and brought no harm to society, they would surely make the right decision.
With trust in the government officials, Ms. Li went to appeal with several other practitioners. Some practitioners chose not to go, either due to family issues or fear. “This was not surprising,” said Ms. Li, “practicing itself is voluntary, let alone going to appeal for it.”
Ms. Li and other practitioners arrived around 8 a.m. at a place close to Zhongnanhai. They knew the Central Appeals Office was nearby but were not aware of its exact location. They noticed that several police officers standing beside the road appeared nervous. When Ms. Li and other practitioners asked the officers where the appeals office was, they were told to listen to the directions and follow the crowd.
Gradually, more and more practitioners joined the crowd until they could barely move forward. The police told them stand to there, since the appeals center was ahead of them. Because there were many practitioners, some volunteered to remind each other not to block the traffic or the sidewalk.
Ms. Li did not know how many practitioners there were. She only saw several rows on the sidewalk, but she could not see the end of the line. The police told them where to line up and where to stand. Later, the practitioners became tired after standing for such a long time and some sat down. Then, to avoid appearing to be a staged sit-in and to reduce concerns, young practitioners took turns standing in the front while the older practitioners sat and rested in the back.
There were many practitioners but everyone was quiet. Although the practitioners did not know each other, they naturally looked after one another. Because everyone practiced Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance, he or she also knew the practitioners standing beside them practiced the same principles. Nobody left trash on the ground and everyone cleaned up the area. Some practitioners walked around with a bag to collect trash. Despite the large number of practitioners, they were peaceful and did not block traffic. In the beginning, the police were very nervous. They soon relaxed and began chatting with each other and smoking. Ms. Li saw practitioners pick up the cigarettes the police discarded on the ground.
While many were local Beijing practitioners, some had flown in from other cities, and others had come in on overnight busses. Ms. Li noticed that on the side streets off the road, some practitioners leaned against the wall and took a nap—they were very tired.
At dusk, news came from the front saying that premier Zhu Rongji had met with several practitioners and that Tianjin officials had released the arrested practitioners. The issue was resolved, and everyone could go home. Many were hesitant, since they did not know if this was true. They waited for a while and saw practitioners in the front beginning to leave. When they felt this was true, practitioners were happy. Ms. Li was also glad to hear that the central government officials had made the right decision after understanding the truth.
Ms. Li went back in another practitioner's car. Because there were still seats available in the car, they picked up several elderly practitioners on the way, although they did not know each other. “We all knew we were good people,” said Ms. Li, “and we helped each other as much as we could.”
The next day was Monday, and Ms. Li went to work as usual. She thought everything was resolved and did not expect the situation would become worse and worse. When she saw on television that their peaceful appeal on April 25 was described as “surrounding and attacking Zhongnanhai,” she thought it was a joke. She said, “We listened to the police and stood wherever they told us. If it appeared that we were surrounding Zhongnanhai, then it was a result of instructions given by the police. We just waited there and did as we were told.”
Thirteen years have passed since the peaceful appeal on April 25, 1999. Through the years, Ms. Li and other practitioners have endured pressure and mistreatment, both mentally and physically.
History will view this event objectively
Ms. Li left China two years ago for the freedom of Europe. Looking back at the peaceful appeal 13 years ago, she said, “I joined it with a pure thought and did not expect it to be such a significant historic event. Now we have seen that the CCP's vilifying the peaceful appeal on April 25, 1999, served as a prelude to the persecution. We believe that history will view this event objectively and fairly.”