WASHINGTON – In the nation's capital Monday, practitioners of Falun Gong did what they would be jailed for doing in the Chinese capital of Beijing: They protested the communist government.
Ten practitioners from five U.S. states protested the imprisonment of 130 Falun Gong members in Masanjia, a deadly re-education and labor camp in China, according to the protesters.
They say 265 practitioners of the movement — whose stated mission is to achieve truth, compassion and tolerance through meditation and physical fitness — have been killed, and an estimated 20,000 imprisoned in brutal Chinese labor camps since Falun Gong was banned by the communist government in 1999.
The protestors are in their fourth day of a hunger strike and spoke outside the Chinese embassy, surrounded by supporters.
"During my hunger strike, I want to tell the world: stop the Chinese government from persecuting and torturing its own citizens and the peaceful Falun Gong practitioners," announced Chaohui Lu, a refugee from China, who did two months in a labor camp in 2000 for his dedication to Falun Gong.
But the Chinese embassy denounced the protestors. "Their accusations are without foundation in fact and I think their purpose of making a public show is merely to highlight their opposition to the Chinese government," an embassy spokesman said.
But Lu says the Chinese government smears and intimidates Falun Gong members and their families and threatens their lives.
"The Chinese government wants to suppress all voices that tell the truth about its brutality and killing, and will deny any accusations of its wrongdoings," he said.
Falun Gong is defined as a "cultivation method" of the School of Buddha by its creator Li Hongzhi, who lives in the U.S. Through slow-motion exercise, much like yoga, practitioners aspire to moral and healthy living. The practice has been denounced as a cult by the Chinese government and outlawed. The government says the movement threatens China's stability.
Practitioner Lisa Tan, who was able to escape her own persecution after she married an American and became a citizen during a stay here as an international student, says the communist government is paranoid and afraid that Falun Gong is eroding its influence over the Chinese people.
She said a survey conducted by the Beijing government in 1999 revealed that between 70 and 100 million Chinese practice Falun Gong, though official numbers are difficult to assess.
"We've been urging the U.S. government and whole internationally community to support us, Tan said. "We have to stop this brutal oppression. The Chinese government thinks they are getting away with it."
The State Department reported this year that China's human rights record is deteriorating and has publicly rebuked its treatment of Falun Gong members, as well as minority Christians.
"The United States is deeply disturbed by reports that China has further intensified its harsh repression of the Falun Gong," Richard Boucher, State Department spokesman, said last month. "We call on China to respect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to allow all persons to practice their religions freely."
There has been no indication yet from the State Department that any official changes in China policy are in the works in response to the repression of Falun Gong.