Kristina Skorbach | Epoch Times
NEW YORK—Exactly 15 years ago, on April 25, 1999, ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners peacefully gathered in Beijing to ask the country’s leadership to stop harassing them. Specifically, they were seeking the release of 45 practitioners who had been beaten and arrested days before.
While the meeting appeared to go well and the crowd went as calmly as it came, by summer, the Chinese regime had launched an all-out persecution against Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) that continues to this day in mainland China.
Despite the ongoing persecution in China, where the spiritual practice first spread, today there are roughly 100 million people practicing Falun Gong all over the world.
You’ve probably seen these practitioners before. They typically organize vigils or other awareness raising activities on historic dates like April 25 and July 20—the day the persecution became official policy. On May 13 there are celebrations across the globe for World Falun Dafa Day. If you haven’t seen them before, make sure you keep an eye out on these days.
As the persecution persists, with the latest death reported earlier this month, Falun Gong practitioners gather at Chinese embassies and consulates around the world.
Their goal: to remind the world about the human rights abuses in China, and ask the international community to help demand the persecution end.
In New York at dusk on Friday, hundreds of practitioners sat across from the Chinese consulate for a candlelight vigil. There were people from China, across the United States, and around the world. Some handed out information and spoke to passersby. But most inspiring are their stories, which are not only worth listening to, but recording for posterity.
And so, we asked some Falun Gong practitioners during this year’s candlelight vigil in Manhattan what’s the importance of the event for them.
Mimi Cortese-Ng, 46, school guidance counselor from Brooklyn
She has been practicing since 2004.
“When you have a bunch of very calm, peaceful people being brutalized and tortured as they are being in China, you can’t help but want to support and raise awareness and participate in the events that are going on to call for a stop to what’s going on. It’s just horrific.
As a Westerner, it’s hard to conceive of it. But when I think that, at the time when the persecution started 100 million were practicing—that’s literally one out of every three people in the United States. So when I think about those numbers, and if one out of every three people in the United States was becoming an outlaw based on something that they believed in, based on the peaceful principles [truthfulness, compassion, forbearance], I couldn’t fathom what kind of society that would be.”
Rakesh Nayak, 30, pastry chef from India,
He has been practicing for 2.5 years and came to the United States four months ago.
“A lot of people are getting persecuted in China, so we are here in front of the Chinese Embassy to let them know to stop the persecution, and let them know that this is the righteous way of just evaluation, and it’s not politics that we’re doing. And we’re also here to let people know to quit the [Chinese Communist Party]. Because of the [Falun Gong] practice, I came to know what is life, and why we are in this human form in this world, it totally changed me. I was being very aggressive and it made me more calm and patient. Personally, I got a lot of benefits from practicing Falun Dafa. And it’s also teaching me how to be kind to others.”
Nick Zhao, 12, student
He came from mainland China just 1 month ago with his parents, who also practice.
“[I’m here] because we are Falun Dafa practitioners, and Falun Dafa is not free in China. We are Falun Gong practitioners, and they are too, but they are not here, so we want to help them to get freedom. I have been practicing Falun Dafa since I was little. I’m the luckiest kid of all.”
Louis Russo, 36, fitness trainer from Long Island.
“The persecution is still ongoing today, and even here in the United States, we have so much freedom of press and freedom of information, but a lot of people, I feel really don’t understand Falun Gong well… I’ve experienced a lot of benefits, mentally, physically, spiritually from the practice, and I’m lucky to be in a country where I can practice it freely. But because it’s being attacked, I wouldn’t feel right to just act as if nothing happened, and just enjoy my freedom here, and think that things that are happening to other people somewhere else are irrelevant to me. A lot of people who value freedom, human rights, and dignity would also agree.”
Qingmei Wang, 74, from Nanjing, China
She is now applying for asylum in the United States.
“I have been practicing Falun Gong since 1995. [My husband and I] went to appeal on April 25, 1999, in our province. But it was a different experience. Here, you’re not afraid at all about the evil-doers. I became the key person at my workplace to be monitored after the persecution started. My husband passed away after 1999, and I was arrested five times. Last year, the Minghui website [the main website for reporting on the persecution] published an article about me, and how I suffered persecution in China. I worked at a research institute and on their list of people to persecute, I was number one and my husband was number three. I hope that all the practitioners in China do their best to stop the persecution.”