Falun Gong stages protest

Practitioners of the Eastern art aim to raise awareness of human rights abuses

BRADENTON – Car doors slammed shut in the 12th Street West parking lot, passersby squeaked open the hinged entrance to City Hall, and somewhere out of the ruckus streamed a chorus of exhales.

Four Falun Gong practitioners were moving fluidly Monday morning near the building lawn, eyes closed and arms raised. To fairy-like music playing from a tiny radio, they performed Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, an ancient Eastern meditation art akin to Tai Chi or yoga.

Beside them, a sign read “Rescue Americans Imprisoned in China for their Beliefs.” It was a tranquil protest aimed at the Chinese Communist Party, who they say have been targeting and torturing Falun Gong practitioners for years.

Bradenton is one of more than 10 Florida cities this quartet will visit this week during a national campaign to raise awareness of imprisoned Falun Gong members. Tampa, Sarasota and Fort Myers were also on their route Monday.

Groups from other states will hit the rest of the United States and end the mission in Washington.

There have been reports of thousands of the sects’ members being imprisoned in China where the government has banned the spiritual movement.

“In China, the government does not allow people to have a different belief other than communism,” said Ying Zhang, a 30-year-old student at the University of South Florida who drove from Tampa to Bradenton on Monday. “All we are doing is a traditional, peaceful exercise.”

U.S. citizen Charles Li from Menlo Park, Calif., and permanent resident Li Meizi from Palm Coast are being detained in China for practicing Falun Gong, Zhang says. In July 1999, China’s President Jiang Zemin outlawed the practice.

Falun Gong, Zhang says, is not a threat. It is intended for body, mind and spirit based on the essential nature of the universe, and the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. The practice was introduced to the Chinese public in 1992 by Li Hongzhi.

Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Houston that serves Florida could not be reached for comment Monday.

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