In years past Pang You was a respectable mid-career government official in China just like millions of others: once former director of the planning office for the Olympic Village in Beijing, and later the manager of a state-run real estate company.
But in 1999 he became a thought criminal—because of his practice and belief in Falun Gong a traditional spiritual practice that became a public enemy overnight—and, like millions of others, was given a lengthy prison sentence.
That ordeal began in 2000, with an eight-year jail term for creating and spreading material that discussed the persecution of his practice. Then in 2010 he was stuffed in jail again, for four years, again for publicizing the repression of Falun Gong—through things like stamps on money, banners, and flyers.
Pang is now again in prison, and now at least 100 Beijing residents have risked their own safety to sign a petition to the authorities demanding his release.
The petition has been circulating since mid-January—his friends and family call it the “Need Your Help to Defend Justice” drive.
Over 100 have signed or thumb-printed the document in support—a bold act in communist China, where sympathizers with Falun Gong can themselves be targeted for persecution.
“I have great sympathy for Falun Gong practitioners. Many of the Falun Gong practitioners I have come across have either been arrested or sentenced,” said Mr. Wei, a resident of Yanqing County in Beijing, in a telephone interview. “I did not hesitate when I put my fingerprint on the petition.”
Falun Gong’s teachings espouse personal moral discipline and self-cultivation according to the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, its core beliefs.
Torture Pang suffered in custody included lengthy periods of having the hands and feet shackled together, or fixed to an iron chair. On other occasions, when the guards got creative, he was clasped in an iron collar and marched around on a leash like a dog.
Sleep deprivation was another form of torment he endured—guards would douse him with freezing cold water whenever he seemed to be nodding off.
His most recent trouble came after police were given a tip that he was talking to business partners about the persecution of Falun Gong. That took place in Shaanxi Province, west of Beijing, the capital of China where he resides.
Family members and his lawyer have not been able to see him since he was thrown in detention on Dec. 15.
Despite the risks that signing such petitioners incurs, there have been quite a number circulated in China in recent years.
In June 2012, for example, over 300 villagers signed a petition calling for the release of Wang Xiaodong, a Falun Gong practitioner in northern Hebei Province. In the same month, 15,000 residents of the northeastern Heilongjiang Province signed a petition calling for the release of a whole family that had been severely persecuted.
Subsequently in February 2013, over 1,900 residents in Tangshan City in Hebei signed a petition calling for the release of two Falun Gong practitioners—one in her sixties and another in her seventies, who had been thrown in jail for their beliefs, and for telling other Chinese citizens about the persecution of them.