A small group of Falun Dafa practitioners gathered outside Minneapolis City Hall Wednesday afternoon to host speakers and perform exercises to raise awareness of the alleged ongoing persecution of the practice’s followers in China.
Followers of the spiritual practice — which includes slow-motion exercises similar to those of yoga, meditations and moral teachings — say practitioners in China have been intensely persecuted since 1999 when the Chinese government officially banned it. Wednesday’s Minneapolis event precedes a national memorial event to take place in Washington, D.C. on the actual 10th anniversary of the banning, July 20.
The practice is known by two names, Falun Dafa and Falun Gong, which have similar meanings that both include the phrase “Law Wheel,” which refers to the practice’s circular symbol.
In addition to articles in government-owned Chinese media, anti-Falun sentiment is seen in communities outside of China, made up of those who collectively doubt the legitimacy of practitioners’ claims of violence by the hands of the Chinese government.
Skeptics label the practice a cult and assert that the claims against the Chinese government are attempts to undermine its authority.
Dr. Kirk Allison, program director at the University of Minnesota’s Program in Human Rights and Health, said more than 100,000 Falun Dafa practitioners in China have been detained since the beginning of the persecution, and more than 3,000 have died in custody, most often because of beatings.
Minneapolis Ward 2 city councilman Cam Gordon and Allison spoke in support of the group at the event, though they are not practitioners.
In his brief speech, Gordon voiced his support for the group and read a letter of support from Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson. Gordon praised Minneapolis’ well-known cultural diversity and openness, and added that the city’s citizens need to be “willing to join internationally with others” to promote human rights around the globe.
Allison spoke more in-depth about the practice and its persecution in his address, describing the entire Falun Dafa saga of the past ten years.
Four of the practitioners at Wednesday’s event, including University aerospace engineering and mechanics professor Yiyuan Zhao, performed some of the practice’s basic slow motion exercises for approximately 30 minutes.
The demonstrators, performing moves set to calm music played from an iPod dock, were slow and serene, seemingly to counteract the lunch rush engulfing the plaza. The remaining demonstrators held up the pro-Falun Dafa banners behind their peers.
Akiko Tsutsui, a Minneapolis schools special education assistant, helped organize the event on Wednesday and said the University’s Falun Gong student group practices these moves weekly.
The banners were mostly simple, yet large enough to get the attention of any bystander at the plaza.
City hall employees and other passersby generally did not stay and watch the demonstration for long, but the majority stopped quickly to read signs or pick up a flyer from University employee and practitioner Wen Dong.
“Many do not know these issues,” Dong said, but added that she felt most onlookers had a positive response to the event.
Minneapolis cab driver Gedion Terfasa was at city hall for jury duty, and spent a half hour watching the group perform their exercises.
Terfasa said, like most spectators at Wednesday’s event, he had heard of neither the group nor its persecution before that day.
“I just learned something today,” he said.
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