Beliefnet News

Sep. 24–Religious groups gathered in the North Side and Strip District this morning to protest human rights violations in Asia as the group of 20 economic summit prepared to begin.
More than 100 people gathered in the Strip District this morning to demand freedom to practice Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa. Their peaceful protest, which started about 8 a.m., was held in the shadow of the Senator John Heinz History Center near 12th and Smallman streets.
The protesters, wearing yellow shirts that said “Falun Dafa is Good,” spent much of their time in meditation, seated with their arms and legs crossed in a hotel parking lot.
Aside from the protesters, a small group of journalists was on hand to observe the demonstration.
Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice with more than 100 million followers, most of them in China, where followers face government persecution, according to the Falun Dafa Association. It draws on elements of both Buddhism and Taoism.
Meanwhile, 15 Burmese monks and about 40 supporters gathered in the Mexican War Streets to protest human rights conditions in Myanmar.
The monks wore reddish-orange robes and held signs — some read “Free Burma” while others displayed photos of jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi — as they marched from Sampsonia Street through West Park toward Point State Park.
“We want to give a voice to the world leaders,” said U Kovida, a leader in the Saffron Rangoon Revolution and a Buddhist monk. “Obama says change. We don’t need change in Washington D.C. We need change and help in Burma.”
In the Strip District, demonstrators quietly held up banners faced toward the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, separated from the Chinese delegation inside by steel fences, a phalanx of police officers and a curtain that was drawn so that no one inside could see the protesters holding their vigil.
“They know that we are here, even if they refuse to look at us,” said Dr. Crystal Fang, a Philadelphia psychiatrist who said she is blacklisted by the Chinese government.
Spokespeople for the Chinese delegation attending the G-20 conference declined comment.
Anna Dong and her 9-year-old son held a blue and white banner reading “Stop Persecuting Falun Gong” under an overcast sky. She spoke of sexual brutality committed by Chinese secret police against her while she was imprisoned for two years.
“I became a practitioner in 1994,” recalled Dong, a refugee from Anhui Province living in Philadelphia. “In the beginning, everyone said that Falun Dafa was good, even the government. But that changed.”
Dong said she incurred the wrath of communist authorities in 2001, six years after a nationwide crackdown on the religion. She said she spent a year in jail. A former restaurant manager, she said she’s concerned about her neighbors in Anhui Province.
“Look, in China I held up a banner and I was arrested,” she said. “I didn’t have the opportunity to peacefully say, ‘Falun Dafa is good.’ Here, in Pittsburgh, I’m in a democracy. I can hold up a banner and say, ‘Falun Dafa is good.’ ”
By staff writers Chris Ramirez, Jill King Greenwood and Carl Prine
Copyright (c) 2009, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News – September 24, 2009
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.