Protesters to follow Jiang
Houston Chronicle, Oct. 22, 2002
By DALE LEZON
Hundreds of protesters hope to give Chinese President Jiang Zemin an earful in Texas this week.
Practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual self-improvement belief system banned in China, as well as people demanding China end its occupation of Tibet and recognize Taiwan, plan peaceful protests at Jiang’s every stop.
Even before his arrival on Wednesday, some Falun Gong followers practiced meditative exercises today outside City Hall and talked about their persecution in China.
Protesters also plan to picket outside Jiang’s Houston hotel, while he meets with President Bush in Crawford and during his speech at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Practitioners of Falun Gong plan peaceful protests, said Leeshai Lemish, 24, a college student and a Falun Gong practitioner from Pomona, Calif.
“We want to make sure Jiang is aware that the world knows what he is doing,” Lemish said. “We’re not against China. We’re not protesting Chinese-U.S. relations. We’re against this persecution (of Falun Gong practitioners).”
The Chinese government banned the movement in July 1999, saying Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a cult that uses mind control and manipulation while openly challenging Chinese law. Practitioners have been arrested and jailed. Some claim they were tortured. Others said practitioners have been killed.
In Houston, Falun Gong practitioners who traveled here said they are being unfairly targeted. They said their reservations at a hotel were canceled a few days ago and they believe it was part of the Chinese government’s plan to squash their protests this week. The Chinese Consulate could not be reached for comment Monday. A hotel spokeswoman said the people were offered rooms at the company’s other locations.
Falun Gong, introduced to the public in 1992, combines spiritual beliefs and physical exercise and promotes health and inner peace. Millions practice it worldwide.
The treatment of Falun Gong members in China has gained the sympathy of the international community and some members of the U.S. Congress who argue for freedom from religious persecution.
In June, Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said some American Falun Gong practitioners traveling to Iceland when Jiang visited that country were apparently harassed, according to a transcript of a hearing of the House International Relations Committee June 26.
“We also know that here in this country there have been threats against Falun Gong practitioners and this is part of homeland security I would think,” Menendez said at the hearing.
Lemish said Chinese officials have harassed the belief’s practitioners whenever they travel to countries Jiang visits.
Practitioners who have arrived in Houston said they had reserved about 50 rooms at Homestead Studio Suites in the 2300 block of West Loop South, next to the Inter-Continental Hotel where Jiang is to stay, but were told last week their reservations had been canceled.
The Falun Gong practitioners said the rooms offered at the company’s other Houston hotels were several miles from the Inter-Continental, and they are scrambling for closer accommodations.
“I think they targeted our group not to be there for the peaceful demonstrations,” said Karen Hong, a Falun Gong practitioner from Maryland.
The Homestead sold out the week of Jiang’s visit, said Karen Burk, the hotelier’s spokeswoman at corporate headquarters in Atlanta. It’s common for hotels to overbook to make sure as many rooms as possible are occupied if people cancel at the last minute, Burk said.
Joan Johnson, president of the Hotel and Motel Association of Greater Houston, said it is “uncommon” for hotels to overbook their rooms. However, she said, groups sometimes don’t check out as scheduled and that interferes with another group’s reservations.
“It happens rarely,” Johnson said.
Lemish said many Falun Gong will follow Jiang to Crawford and College Station for more protests.
At least two other groups also plan to picket near Jiang’s hotel Wednesday night. Taiwanese immigrants will protest China’s intention to take control of the island, while others will carry signs criticizing China’s continued control of Tibet.
Eddie Chuang of the Taiwanese Association of America said he expects at least 200 “hard-core” supporters of an independent Taiwan to protest in the Galleria area Wednesday. About half of them will board buses Friday for another protest near President Bush’s ranch in Crawford.
Though only a few Tibetans are expected to protest here, dozens of U.S. college students are expected to turn out on their behalf. China’s control of Tibet has created controversy since its invasion in 1950.
Kathleen Gresham, of Texans for Tibet, said she expects a few dozen protesters demanding Tibetan liberation. A candlelight vigil Wednesday night will be led by Students for a Free Tibet, a national group.
“The Western imagination has always been taken by Tibet,” Gresham said.
Chronicle reporter Edward Hegstrom contributed to this story.