Members also rallied and collected signatures at Brooklyn Supreme Court and at UN Plaza yesterday. The actions were part of a coast-to-coast campaign that started in mid-August at Li’s home in California and is scheduled to end Sept. 16 in Washington.
Li was arrested Jan. 22 at the airport in Guangzhou, China, and charged with sabotaging state-owned radio and television facilities. Chinese authorities said Li carried cable TV interception tools.
Ad: Vacation? City Trip? Weekend Break? Book Skip-the-line tickets
Practitioners describe Falun Gong as an exercise and meditation system based on ancient Chinese wisdom. Its critics, including the Chinese government, call it a dangerous cult.
“It was his purpose to break through the media blockade,” Jian Feng Zhou, a fellow Falun Gong member, said of Li. “The Chinese government does not allow people to know that the Falun Gong practice is based on compassion, truth and tolerance. They make propaganda to say that Falun Gong is evil.”
Zhou, 33, who was a doctor in China and now lives in Elmhurst, Queens, also said 800 people had been killed by the Chinese authorities for practicing Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual discipline founded in 1992.
“This is the Falun Gong trying to deceive the American public again,” said Chinese Embassy spokesman Sun Weide in Washington.
“Falun Gong has a tendency toward violence and terror, and we would like to alert the American public to the true nature of this evil cult,” he said.
Weide said Falun Gong espouses “doomsday theories” and is responsible for the deaths of more than 1,700 people in China.
“[Li’s crime] is not only punishable in China, but also worldwide, including the United States,” Weide said.
According to a statement released by the Chinese consul general in New York, Li had access to a lawyer and “fully enjoyed and exerted all his legal rights to defend himself” during his trial.
However, Falun Gong members said Li was “rushed through a one-day show trial” and was abused in prison.
“They would use various ways to break you,” said Gang Chen, 31, a former labor camp prisoner who came to the United States six weeks ago. He recalled his 18 months in a forced-labor camp between 2000 and 2002 as “the darkest moments” of his life. He was able to sleep very little, forced to work 15 to 20 hours a day.
“Dr. Charles Li has sought to bring greater transparency and visibility to a systemic persecution that is killing people every day,” said Chen, who now lives in Cherry Hill, N.J.
“A Chinese prison is the last place that this heroic American belongs,” he said.