Ride2Freedom youths trekking 3000 miles for human rights
[Photo Caption: Aila Verheijke, 11, spoke about her grandmother being covered with bruises on her body after being arrested and beaten in China because she practices Falun Gong. “It’s not a crime to practice Falun Gong, so the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] shouldn’t capture us and torture us. I want the children that are being orphaned to have a happy life like I do.” (Debora Cheng/Epoch Times)]
By Chris Jasurek
On June 1 a group of about 30 youth will set out from Los Angeles on a cross-country bike ride to call attention to an ongoing persecution in China, and to rescue some of the victims of that persecution.
Six weeks later they will arrive in Washington D.C. where they will meet with government officials to discuss the gross human rights violations of the Chinese Communist Party, particularly against the peaceful spiritual practice Falun Gong.
Next, the team will head to New York City to address the United Nations to meet with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
Then comes the most important leg of the journey: some of these youth plan to travel to Beijing to rescue five children orphaned by the persecution.
The 30 teenagers taking part in this project call themselves Global Youth Ambassadors. Aishwarya Sai from India is one of them.
“I want to tell everyone that I am going to be a youth ambassador rider for the biggest cycling event called Ride 2 Freedom starting on June 1st in USA,” said Sai. “It’s a 3000 mile bike ride from Los Angeles to Washington DC. Youth from all over the world will be riding along to raise awareness about the persecution of Falun Gong, a peaceful meditation practice, and to rescue 5 orphans in China. I need everyone’s support and encouragement to accomplish this mission.”
The riders do indeed represent the entire world, coming to L.A. from 15 countries across five continents. After finishing their spring semesters in high school or college, these ambassadors will spend their summer riding over the Rocky Mountains, crossing the Mojave Desert, the Great Plains, the Mississippi River, and visiting 19 cities on their way to D.C.
They will sleep on the ground, cook by the roadside, wash at outdoor faucets or in streams or out of buckets.
None of these youth are athletes, none are cyclists. Some have never even ridden a bike, and none have ridden for more than an hour or two.
What would move these young people from all around the world to spend six weeks sacrificing and suffering?
Not the quest for adventure, not the search for excitement; they are riding to save lives.
“Ride 2 Freedom is basically what it sounds like—a ride to freedom,” explained U.S. youth ambassador Jenny Zhi. “Technically, it’s an almost 4000 mile bike ride from LA to DC, but there’s a bigger purpose behind that—that is, to spread awareness about the persecution of Falun Gong in China and about the children who are being orphaned as a result of it. It’s a 45 day journey, and we’ll be making stops in major cities along the way to talk about it. A cross-country bike ride is all well and good, but it’s no use if we don’t talk about why we’re doing it.
“Growing up, I knew about the persecution, and I obviously felt very bad about it, felt pity for those getting persecuted. But because I grew up in the United States, its effects were detached from me, and I don’t think I actually realized the scope of it.”
“Another thing about being a kid in the United States—minors legally can’t do much,” Zhi said. “I couldn’t do much about the persecution, in terms of directly working to stop it, I could only talk to people and hope for the best, on a very small scale. This project really resonates with me particularly because I am able to participate in it and make a larger impact by being a kid living outside of China, detached from the persecution.”
15 Years of Torture and Murder
It is no secret that Communist China is ruled by a repressive regime, but because of the country’s economic clout most media, and thus most people, don’t pay attention to the gross violations of human rights that take place there daily.
One of the most brutal and least publicized persecutions perpetrated by the Chinese regime is the almost 16-year-long suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline.
Falun Gong is an ancient spiritual practice that combines slow, gentle exercises and meditation with moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Once promoted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for its health benefits, Falun Gong became too popular. When, in 1999, there were more Falun Gong practitioners than Communist Party members, the Party decided to eliminate the practice by jailing and torturing its practitioners.
This is a common CCP practice, using torture to try to force people to give up their beliefs.
In this case, though, the Party’s plan didn’t work, as tens of millions of Falun Gong practitioners in China have refused to renounce their beliefs.
Even more grotesque is the practice of organ harvesting. The Chinese regime, realizing it had hundreds of thousands of healthy prisoners in its labor camps and jails, decided to turn China into the world’s biggest organ transplant center. While patients in other nations must wait for months or even years for an organ donor, in China organs could be produced in a matter of days and organ transplantations could be scheduled in advance—something only possible if a living organ donor is already available.
In traditional Chinese culture, donating organs is taboo; yet shortly after the persecution started, transplants in China about tripled as people came from around the world for life-saving surgery.
Of course, the patients didn’t know that it was also life-taking surgery. Patients didn’t know that Chinese jails were basically serving as warehouses for Falun Gong practitioners’ organs. Approximately 41,500 transplants were performed between the start of the persecution and 2005 using organs for which no one can officially explain the source, according to the book “Bloody Harvest.” The book, by international human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgour, concludes Falun Gong practitioners were the most likely source for these organs.
What About the Children?
With the CCP arresting hundreds of thousands of people each year for their beliefs, a whole new class of victims was created: children of seized, jailed practitioners. The children were ignored or treated as an afterthought. The regime either took no interest in the children left homeless and parentless, or simply jailed them also—an easy solution for a regime that simply doesn’t value human life or human rights.
Ride2Freedom is the first human rights expedition aimed directly at the most defenseless, most innocent victims. The Global Youth Ambassadors, being teenagers or young adults themselves, could identify with the orphaned children, could see the cruel waste of human life—children who needed to be loved, nurtured, and taught were instead living as fugitives, hiding from the regime and struggling to survive. The children, given a chance, could be just like the Ambassadors: diligent students with big dreams and bright futures, working to make good lives for themselves.
The riders decided that rescuing just a few children, though seemingly just symbolic, had the potential to open the floodgates. Once the Chinese regime admitted that there were such orphans, and once human rights groups around the world realized that it was possible to rescue these children, vast possibilities would open.
The promise of Ride2Freedom is that the idea of successfully rescuing refugee children will not be a dream but a task to undertake, by any group willing to make the effort. This is what motivates the enormous effort the Ride2Freedom team will make.
“Ride 2 Freedom aims to spread public awareness about an unfortunate event in China, a massive unjust persecution against a peaceful meditation practice, Falun Gong,” said Youth Ambassador Michael Chen from Ohio. “I hope this project will help more people gain an understanding of what’s going on in China, since many popular national media companies don’t report on this. Visit http://ride2freedom.us for more info about this project and ways you can help.”
The results the team is working toward depend on publicity.
The young people taking this bike ride hope that when the whole world starts wondering why China is harming so many children, the Chinese regime will find it impossible to maintain the persecution.
When public opinion starts moving diplomatic and economic levers—when canceled trade deals and boycotts of Chinese goods, driven by outrage over the persecution, start impacting the regime’s income—continuing to seize, jail, torture and kill peaceful citizens will suddenly seem like not such a great idea.
Eike Opfermann, Global Youth Ambassador from Germany has this to say: “Ride to Freedom is the chance to make the world listen to all those horrible things that happened and are still happening in China now. It’s the chance to #save5orphans, and those 5 will be the first ones of millions of people in China to be rescued. I want to take this chance and make this come true. I want to make everybody in my country and in the rest of the world to listen and pay attention to this!”
Jenny Zhi described what she hoped to accomplish:
“Our ultimate goal is to end the persecution for good, but I think larger goals need to be split up into individual steps, and I think the first step is to spread awareness. In my experience, very few people have heard about Falun Gong or its persecution. Because nobody knows about it, the Chinese government can continue what it’s doing without any retaliation. If the whole world knew about it, there would be pressure for the persecution to stop, so I think that right now awareness is the first and most important goal to achieve.”
Full disclosure: I have been working as a volunteer to assist Ride2Freedom and will travel with these young people on their trek across the country.