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City taking a stand in China

By Matt Liebowitz, Special to the Daily Planet
Thursday July 11, 2002

The City Council plans to send a letter to China asking its government to stop arresting people for practicing an ancient spiritual movement called Falun Gong. 

The Chinese government has jailed and tortured people, Falun Gong supports say, because the government believes the growing group who practice Falun Gong threatens stability and state control.  

At a meeting Tuesday City Council agreed to sign a letter written by a local peace group and Berkeley resident and Falun Gong observer Steve Ispas. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that many people around the world are doing the same. 

“Some people think it’s just Berkeley against the world, but we are supporting a social movement,” Worthington said. “We are working towards peace and justice, we’re supporting what Amnesty International has been saying for years.” 

Ispas visited China last year to protest the government’s repression of Falun Gong and its abuse of people practicing it. He said the focus of the spiritual group is to keep the mind and body fit, not politics.  

“It doesn’t go against communist theory,” Ispas said. “It’s just that there are so many people [who practice] and the communist government is worried about that.” 

Outside Tiananmen Square on Feb. 14, Ispas and five others were beaten by Chinese policemen, arrested, and taken to a detention center with 60 more Falun Gong supporters. Ispas was held for 24 hours but was not charged with any crime. 

Ispas left China with a sense of accomplishment despite being arrested. 

“Even if we didn’t make the Chinese government realize anything, we helped the Chinese people,” he said.  

Worthington pushed for the resolution, and is hopeful about its success.  

“When you’re dealing with big bureaucracies that are abusing human rights, you can never be sure which rally or which letter may turn the tide,” Worthington said. “But this is part of the cumulative impact of people around the world.” 

Falun Gong is an ancient Chinese practice that became popular in the early 1990s and was outlawed in 1999. 

Its members were denied legal protection and status in China. Ispas said more than 400 people were tortured and killed for being associated with Falun Gong. 

The City Council wants copies of its letter to go to Berkeley’s sister city in China, which is actually the Haidian District of Beijing, to the mayor of Beijing, its director of public safety and a governor.