WASHINGTON—Falun Gong practitioners in Washington held a candlelight vigil in front the Chinese Embassy April 24, calling on communist authorities to end their brutal campaign against them while marking an historic day.
“I am very honored and touched to be able to participate in such a solemn occasion,” said Jamil Lawrance, a D.C. attorney and part-time hip-hop artist, who also practices Falun Gong.
“The persecution of Falun Gong practitioners is something that has gone on for longer than ten years and it is something that needs to stop at this point,” he said.
According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, April 25, 1999 was the day Chinese authorities made clear that a campaign to eradicate the meditation and exercise practice would begin.
More than 10,000 practitioners had turned up that day at Zhongnanhai, the government compound in Beijing, in what has been described as the largest peaceful protest in China’s history.
Disturbed by inaccurate reports about Falun Gong and increasing harassment by local officials, including beatings and arrests, they had been told by authorities to take their concerns to the appeals office in Beijing, according to the information center. People had come from regions around China believing national authorities had been misled about Falun Gong and to tell them that Falun Gong was a good thing.
Chinese authorities then described their appeal as a siege and used the event to claim Falun Gong practitioners had ulterior motives.
From then on it became dangerous to say you practiced Falun Gong in China, said Zhenjie Yu, 62, speaking through a translator at the embassy event.
She was one of those who went to Beijing and was arrested and then sentenced to three years hard labor.
“I was tortured so badly,” she said through a translator. She described how an electric prod was applied to her face “making it look like popcorn” and how she was tied with her hands behind her back and hung up by a rope. “The pain is so unbearable, I lost consciousness.”
Chinese authorities rolled out a campaign of terror, torture and abuse against Falun Gong practitioners, which continues to this day.
Ms. Shen, an elderly Chinese lady sitting peacefully with legs crossed in the lotus position at the vigil, said because there were so many Falun Gong practitioners suffering in prisons and labor camps in China, she had come to draw attention to their plight.
“They should be free,” she said speaking through a translator.
Ms. Shen said she had also tried to tell authorities that Falun Gong was good, setting out to Beijing that fateful month in 1999, but had been turned back.
“I had health problems and Falun Gong made me feel better. It taught me to be kind and to try and be the best person I can be,” she said, explaining her reasoning.
Ms. Shen said some of the practitioners at the vigil had family members that were in prison and being tortured right now, at which point tears welled in her eyes. So many families had been split up because of the persecution, including her own, she said.
“My family members are all in China,” she struggled to say. “After the persecution ends I want to go back to the mainland and be united with my family.”
Ms. Shen turned her head away and wiped her eyes.