La Puente pastor arrested at human rights protest against China

By Brian Day, Staff Writer Posted: 02/17/2012 04:28:39 PM PST

Rev. Eddie Perez Romero, of Hacienda Christian Center and director of the China Aid of Los Angeles in La Puente, is detained by Los Angeles Police officers after protesting the treatment of the China 6 in the middle of Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles before the JW Marriot where China’s Vice President Xi Jinping is staying during his visit Friday, February 17, 2012. (Sarah Reingewirtz/Staff Photographer )

LOS ANGELES – A La Puente pastor who made headlines in 2008 when he was arrested in China for his human rights activism at the Beijing Olympics again volunteered for arrest while protesting the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to Los Angeles.

Rev. Eddie Perez Romero is a minister at the Hacienda Christian Fellowship, director of the activist organization China Aid Los Angeles and a instructor of religion, ethics and philosophy at Mt. San Antonio College.

He met with hundreds of others in front of the JW Marriot Hotel in Los Angeles Friday morning to protest Xi’s visit, citing prevalent human rights abuses in China.

Inside the hotel, Xi, who is expected to become president of the world’s most populous nation next year, started his fourth day in the United States at a Los Angeles trade conference hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. His American counterpart, Vice President Joe Biden, joined him later.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa both lauded the U.S.-China relationship.

“We’ve got a great future together,” said Brown, who announced plans to open a new trade and investment office in China. China is a major trade partner with Los Angeles, which has greatly benefited from its Pacific Rim position and has courted Chinese businesses and their potential jobs.

But outside the meetings, protesters were more critical of China.

To help bring attention to the cause of human rights abuses and denials of freedom by the Chinese government, Romero intentionally violated police orders by stepping off the sidewalk and standing in the middle of Olympic Avenue with a protest sign.

“Good people are put in prison (in China), and it’s tragic,” he said shortly before his arrest.

Within seconds of stepping into the street, he was handcuffed by a team of Los Angeles police officers and taken to the department’s Central Division.

In a statement issued prior to Friday’s protest, Romero said he wanted to put pressure on U.S. officials to take a more active role in bringing human rights to China.

“Many politicians and diplomats want to draw a clear distinction between the economy and human rights, for fear of offending their Chinese counterparts,” Romero said.

“My hope is that Vice President Joseph Biden, Governor Jerry Brown and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will rise above any pandering spirit, but as true statesmen, intentionally blur the artificial line between the economy and human rights,” Romero added.

Romero was expected to be released later in the day after posting bail, said his daughter, Sarah Yetter.

“He did it for the purpose of bringing attention to what we believe is a very important cause,” Yetter said, adding that she was proud of her father.

In particular, Romero wanted to draw the public’s attention to a group of six political prisoners currently jailed in China, including Cao Zhisheng, Chen Guangcheng, Liu Xianbin, Guo Quan, Alimujiang Yimiti and Rev. Yang Rongli.

The sign Romero carried with him onto Olympic Avenue just before his arrest read, “Free China” and “Free Guo Quan.”

Guo has been serving a 10-year sentence since 2008 for calling for political reform in China. Guo, a professor, published a work criticizing the government for its response to the Sichuan earthquake, in which nearly 70,000 people died. He was detained shortly after.

Friday was not Romero’s first time in handcuffs for the cause of human rights.

During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, he engaged in civil disobedience by posting and leaving behind human rights signs and posters in two Chinese motel rooms. He then hid from Chinese authorities for 18 days before surrendering in Tiananmen Square.

He was arrested, interrogated and promptly placed on an airplane back to the U.S.

Romero was among hundreds of other anti-China protestors in front of the JW Marriot Friday – each had their own reasons for attending the demonstration and used various methods to make their points.

The crowd held signs and flags as they chanted slogans such as, “China is guilty, guilty of genocide,” and “Long live the Dalai Lama.”

Some Falun Gong protestors engaged in meditation on the sidewalk, while others yelled angrily or paraded with drums and costumes.

Many representatives of the Tibetan and Falun Gong communities protested against China’s oppression of those groups.

“We want to let Xi Jinping know that what he’s doing, it’s unacceptable,” said Ngawang Tsephel, 26, of Oakland.

Tsephel said under China’s oppressive rule, 22 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of the regime.

“Being a Tibetan, this is something I can do to amplify their voice out of Tibet,” he said.

Dr. Dana Churchill, who heads a Los Angeles-based organization called Heartfelt Medicine, said that as a physician, his main focus is on the issue of forced organ transplants in China, through which prisoners or those held in labor camps have organs forcible removed for transplant.

“We estimate tens of thousands (of victims),” he said, primarily from the Chinese Falun Gong community.

Most people first express disbelief when told of the practice, Churchill said. “Once they know the facts, they want to take action.”

Giovanni Vassallo, 43, drove from his hometown of San Francisco to attend the demonstration.

“China needs to get out of Tibet, and they need to stop the killing,” he said.

After the trade forum, Xi and Biden visited a suburban school in South Gate that specializes in Asian studies to promote more American students in China. The vice presidents watched a traditional Chinese “dragon dance” performed by middle- and high-school students at the International Studies Learning Center, a public school that is part of the Asia Society’s network of schools across the country.

“You are an impressive group of students,” Biden said. “Thank you for making America look so good.”

Biden told the students that the U.S.-China relationship is the single most important relationship the country has in the 21st century. He said he and President Barack Obama believe that the most significant factor in improving U.S.-China ties is increasing educational opportunity for American students in China.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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