A nationwide tour in support of Dr. Charles Li -- a U.S. citizen imprisoned by the Chinese government for practicing Falun Gong -- visited Cincinnati Aug. 30.
Yeong-Ching Foo, Li's fiancée, and several friends and family members launched the campaign in California to raise awareness of his situation and collect petitions demanding his release. The tour is headed to Washington, D.C., where activists hope to get federal officials involved.
Foo was among the people on Fountain Square petitioning for the release of her fiancé.
"Charles' situation is getting very urgent," she said. "He went to save the people. He is very noble."
The Chinese government says Li was arrested because he intended to disrupt Chinese television broadcasts. But supporters say his arrest is part of China's persecution of Falun Gong, a banned spiritual practice involving meditation and physical exercises.
With roots in ancient Chinese culture, Falun Gong's core principles are truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. When the practice first attracted a following in 1992, the Chinese government praised Falun Gong, which practitioners say improves physical and mental health.
But then in 1999 Jiang Zemin, then president of China, declared Falun Gong an illegal cult. In the seven years it had been publicly taught, Falun Gong had attracted more followers than the Communist Party.
Zemin established the 610 Office, a secret police force charged with eliminating Falun Gong. How could that happen when the Chinese constitution guarantees spiritual freedom?
"China controls every medium," said Peijin Xie, a practitioner who has lived in the U.S. since 1995 and now works for a marketing company in Cincinnati. "The people in China don't know."
Li was arrested at Guangzhou Airport minutes after disembarking from his plane. After a one-day trial -- in which he was denied an attorney, not allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and not permitted to call witnesses in his defense -- he was sentenced to three years in a Chinese "labor and reeducation" camp.
Cincinnati psychologist, Sunny Lu, a fellow practitioner, says Li's only crime was exposing the persecution of Falun Gong.
"Even if he did do it, it still didn't violate Chinese law," Foo said. "What he was doing was trying to save the public and the Chinese constitution."
When she last saw her husband-to-be, Foo said, "He wanted to go to China. He was very calm."
Since his arrest, Li has endured severe mistreatment, according to his supporters. He was handcuffed for 130 consecutive hours and deprived of sleep for three days. When he staged a hunger strike to protest his treatment, he was force-fed by a tube inserted in his throat.
Foo said the American consulate in Shanghai told her that the tube was left in Li's throat for 33 hours after he was force-fed. He has lost at least 20 pounds and shares a cell with 12 other inmates who beat him if he tries to practice Falun Gong.
Li was forced to attend brainwashing classes denouncing Falun Gong. When he refused, an inmate beat him and dragged him down the steps to the session
"The U.S. State Department had protested against China for Charles by calling Ambassador Yang Jieshi," Foo said. "Since then, they do not force him to go to brainwashing class."
Falun Gong supporters say there have been 773 confirmed deaths of practitioners due to torture.
"Zemin uses all of his power to persecute Falun Gong," Foo said. "This is his personal thing. The public is being lied to. They build up the hatred in people to help the persecution. They would hate themselves if they know the truth."
Foo said her own sister didn't believe the persecution was taking place until Li was arrested.
"There is no law saying it is illegal," Foo said. "The Chinese constitution provides all Chinese people freedom of belief. When the Chinese government violates their rights, they are breaking the law."
In October of 2002, practitioners in the United States and abroad filed a class action lawsuit against Zemin and the 610 Office for crimes including genocide. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco recently found Beijing Mayor Liu Qi and Liaoning Deputy Governor Xia Deren responsible for overseeing the torture of Falun Gong practitioners.
Zemin has tried to stop the lawsuit by pressuring the U.S. State and Justice departments. In response, several members of the House of Representatives filed an amicus brief on behalf of the practitioners. The House has also passed two resolutions urging China to persecuting Falun Gong or face economic pressure.
"They want to hold Charles as a bargaining condition," said practitioner Yuqian Lou. "Canada has saved two people. Australia has saved two. Ireland has saved one. But the U.S. can't even get out Dr. Charles Li."
Lou urged people to contact their representatives in Washington to facilitate Li's release.
"We collect the petition to make one strong voice," Foo said. "We need a stronger voice and then he will be released."
If given the chance to give Li a message, Foo said she would tell her fiancé, "Hang in there. The world is rescuing you. Your fellow Falun Gong practitioners and people around the world are rescuing you."
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