The Bryan-College Station Eagle, Oct. 25, 2002
By CRAIG KAPITAN
Eagle Staff Writer
They followed Jiang Zemin through Europe. They followed him to Iceland, and pretty soon they’ll be following him through Mexico.
On Thursday, a crowd of drenched Falun Gong practitioners stood silently in the rain outside the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, meditating to protest the Chinese president’s arrival.
“You probably won’t believe it, but wherever he goes the weather is like this,” said Houston resident Yiyang Xia.
Yiyang has traveled to Falun Gong protests in Iceland, New York and Hong Kong. He is part of an international movement among Falun Gong followers to peacefully confront Jiang whenever he leaves China.
The individuals hope that by embarrassing Jiang with the public protests, they can convince him to improve China’s record for human rights abuses.
Since 1999, the Chinese government has labeled Falun Gong — a spiritual movement that incorporates exercise — a cult. As a result, many practitioners have been imprisoned and others have been tortured or killed, protesters said.
“We want to end the persecution — that’s the only thing we’re concerned with,” Yiyang said. “We need every opportunity to appeal. Wherever he goes, we’ll be there.”
According to university police estimates, about 2,000 people trudged through the rain-soaked “free speech area” to protest Thursday as Jiang spoke inside with former President Bush.
Another thousand people, mostly A&M and University of Texas students from China and their families, gathered nearby to show support for Jiang. They passed out American and Chinese flags, as well as plastic rain ponchos that they decided to share with Falun Gong supporters due to the severe weather.
“Everything went super — smooth as honey,” said University Police Department Director Bob Wiatt. “The protesters and the supporters of the president were all well behaved.”
About 250 officers from Texas A&M, College Station, Bryan, Brazos County and the Texas Department of Safety were on hand in case trouble occurred.
The only hitch, Wiatt said, was when about 200 Jiang well-wishers left their designated area to get a better view of the motorcade. But a mounted police unit led them back to the free-speech area.
“We were just so tickled,” Wiatt said. “The Falun Gong people were very nice. They caused no disruption.”
That wasn’t surprising to Jared Pearman, a 22-year-old student from Florida who estimates he has traveled to a dozen countries to support Falun Gong. For the past few days he’s been in College Station, passing out literature and talking to students on campus.
“This is how Falun Gong protests are,” he said, standing among a crowd of people meditating. “Ninety-five percent of the people are silent.”
Their presence is loud enough, he said.
“What Jiang Zemin fears the most is the world finding out what he is,” Pearman said. “He wants to preserve his name in the international community. He’s terrified to see us out here.”
Many protesters said they will continue to follow Jiang throughout his four-day visit to the United States. They gathered in front of his hotel and at the Chinese Consulate in Houston and plan to stand outside President Bush’s ranch Friday when Jiang visits him in Crawford.
Many protesters traveled from beyond the United States to participate in the protests. Organizers estimated that there were about 40 people in the crowd from Sweden, 400 from Taiwan and 170 from Australia.
“I think this is a very rare chance for me to appeal to him,” said Sunataya Samkoses, who traveled from Thailand with a handful of others. “There we can’t do that.”
When local Falun Gong practitioners tried to hold an “experience sharing conference” in Thailand, China threatened to halt trading, she said.
Others had more personal stories of intimidation. Maria Salzman, a mother from Poland, told of a friend from China who was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The man was singled out because he had volunteered to bring a stereo to the group’s exercise site, she said.
In addition to visiting Texas, Salzman said she has attended protests in the Baltics and in Tiananmen Square and has discussed the persecution of Falun Gong followers with the Polish president and the pope.
“I decided to use my mouth, because people in China cannot say anything,” she said. “I do this because my conscience won’t allow me not to.”