WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- As President George W. Bush prepares to meet his Chinese counterpart later this week, a group of about 20 Americans related their experiences at the hands of Chinese police who they claim beat, harassed and detained them during a peaceful protest in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Feb. 14.
The group were Falun Gong practitioners. This was the forth time Western members of the Falun Gong, which is illegal in China, have demonstrated in Tiananmen Square since November 2001.
Mark Gardner, 22, of Los Angles, was one of the Americans who made it to Tiananmen Square before being arrested.
Many Westerners, including some who knew nothing about the Falun Gong and had only gone to China as tourists, found themselves questioned by police, who wanted to know if they belonged of the sect.
It seemed obvious from questions police asked they already were aware of the event planned by the Falun Gong for the next day, some of the Americans said.
Keith Ware, a Falun Gong practitioner, said he had just finished 90 minutes of meditation in his room when 10 Chinese police officers knocked on his door, asking to see his passport. He said they asked if he knew about Westerners who were going to show support for the Falun Gong at Tiananmen Square.
Police told all of the Western foreigners were not allowed to stay at the hostel.
"One should remember that this was an international youth hostel," said David Lee Jerky of Seattle, who was one of Americans who had gone to China to partake in the Falun Gong demonstration.
In preparation for President Bush's visit this week, security was increased in the Chinese capital to prevent any further demonstrations by the Falun Gong.
Gardner, the American who visited China, returned with a black eye, saying he was beaten by Chinese police.
Gardner said he had gone to Tiananmen Square to raise a banner and shout, "Falun Gong is good" in Chinese. When he arrived in the square he saw that several other Westerners had already raised their banners and plainclothes policemen were attacking them.
"I felt that it was such a brave act," said Gardner. "It is something that came from peoples' hearts, you know, that they came here from far, far distances, from all over the world. It was quite a scene."
Gardner said before he could unfold his homemade banner he was thrown to the ground by a policeman. Everything went very fast, "they kicked me in the head when I was on the ground and roughed me up quite a bit, there, in front of people."
"At the time I was not really thinking too much, I just know I came to do a good thing, to tell the police that Falun Gong is good and to hold my banner and to stand for the three words on the banner: Truth, Compassion, Forbearance, and just to embody those words when I was there on the square," Gardner said.
China claims the Falun Gong wants to overthrow the government, as President Jiang Zemin blamed the group in the past.
"This is an excuse for the government to escalate their persecution. Every year they have new labels. Their persecution is a total failure, because they cannot change people's hearts by using terror," Professor Shiyu Zhou told United Press International. Zhou holds a doctorate from Tsinghua University and now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.