Commission weighs Falun Gong stand

The Argus, June 18, 2003
By Tom Anderson, STAFF WRITER

FREMONT — On a trip to see family in China three years ago, Elton and Janny Loh say, they were detained by Chinese officials, not fed for more than 12 hours and roughed up by guards before being sent back to San Francisco.

The Lohs, who live in Fremont, say they were deported from China for practicing Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned by the Chinese government.

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“They kept our Falun Gong books and didn’t even let us return to China to visit our dying relatives,” Janny Loh said.

The Lohs and three other Falun Gong practitioners asked the city’s human relations commissioners Monday night to write a letter to the Chinese government condemning its persecution of the movement.

After a 30-minute debate over the role of the commission, members unanimously agreed to write a letter to U.S. Rep. Pete Stark, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer informing them that local residents have been affected by China’s Falun Gong crackdown.

“As a melting pot, we have to address issues like (Falun Gong),” Commissioner Mohamad Rajabally said at the meeting.

Falun Gong was banned in China in 1999. The movement is a fusion of traditional Chinese exercises and philosophy drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk.

Since then, thousands of followers have been detained and scores are reported to have died in police custody from beatings or mistreatment, Falun Gong practitioners said.

Chinese government officials call the movement “an evil force” and a “cult,” but deny mistreatment of practitioners.

“If your god is not good for the (Chinese) government, you’re in trouble and so is your god,” said Nan Su, a Falun Gong practitioner who spoke to the commission.

Although most commissioners said they were troubled by the treatment of Falun Gong in China, some said addressing international problems will set a bad precedent for the commission.

“We need to deal with issues that affect residents in our local community to be effective,” Commissioner David Zeigler said at the meeting. “I don’t know if writing a letter is something we can do according to our charter. We may be going around the City Council.”

The commission’s letter is not the city’s official position, and China’s treatment of Falun Gong will not be addressed by the City Council, Mayor Gus Morrison said.

“The commission is an advisory board,” he said. “We don’t want to get involved in international affairs, like city councils in Berkeley and San Francisco.”

Councilmember Steve Cho said many Falun Gong practitioners are in Fremont and the commission should be aware of how the movement is treated in China.

“As for the council, I think we should be focused on local matters,” Cho said.

Dan Schoenholz, deputy director of the city’s human services department, said he will draft the commission’s informational letter being sent to U.S. representatives. He will have the city attorney review the letter to make sure it doesn’t imply that the message is coming from the City Council, he said.

Vijaya Aasuri, who chairs the commission, will sign the letter. She said the commission is not overstepping its authority, because Fremont residents are involved.

“This is an issue that affects people in our city,” Aasuri said. “We wouldn’t be addressing it if they didn’t come to us first.”

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