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Free Wen Ho Lee!

by Naomi Nakamura |
July 1, 2000
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San Francisco, CA - Chanting "Free Wen Ho Lee!" more than 150 people rallied in front of the San Francisco Federal Building, June 8, for a National Day of Action to protest the government's persecution of Dr. Wen Ho Lee. Dr. Lee was an employee of Los Alamos National Laboratory, which designs and builds nuclear weapons. He was jailed and charged with providing an unnamed foreign power with information on atomic weapons.

The San Francisco protest was one of many demonstrations, teach-ins, and press conferences held across the country organized by the Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Scapegoating (CARES). CARES charges that Dr. Lee was singled out because of his Chinese ancestry, and was made a scapegoat for poor security at the weapons lab.

Los Alamos Laboratory has security problems, which have continued after the arrest of Dr. Lee. The former head of security at Los Alamos stated that Lee was targeted because he was Chinese. At the rally in San Francisco, author Helen Zia angrily told the government, "Shame, shame, shame," referring to the fact former CIA head, John Deutch also mishandled data, but he has not been charged with a crime or jailed.

Other speakers at the rally explained how the persecution of Wen Ho Lee reflects the growing tensions between the United States and China, and likened his persecution based on nationality to police harassment of African Americans and Latinos. Lillian Galledo of Filipinos for Affirmative Action stated the case against Wen Ho Lee was influenced by "cold warriors trying to maintain the 'Chinese threat.'"

Renee Saucedo, of the Centro Legal La Raza, said that Latinos can relate to Wen Ho Lee because, "We are seen as 'illegals' and suffer from racial profiling by the police." She also praised the coalition of Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans who came together in a statewide effort to end the common police practice of stopping African American and Latino drivers for no apparent reason, "Driving while black or brown."

As each speaker finished, they shackled themselves together with handcuffs and chains to protest Wen Ho Lee's treatment. Dr. Lee's daughter, Alberta Lee, told the San Francisco rally how her elderly father is kept in solitary confinement, with his hands chained to his waist whenever he leaves his cell.

The discriminatory and inhumane treatment of Dr. Lee has led a number of prominent Asian Americans such as former chancellor Chang-Lin Tien of the University of California, Berkeley, and former California congressperson Norman Mineta to speak out on his behalf. Asian American professional organizations including Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education (APAHE) and the Association for Asian American Studies have called on Asian Americans to boycott working for the Department of Energy, which runs Los Alamos Labs, as long as Wen Ho Lee continues to be persecuted.

The National Day of Action shows the growth of a nation wide support movement for Dr. Lee. Not since the protests following the killing of Vincent Chin, almost twenty years ago, has the Asian American community, mobilized across the country to take action against racist attacks on a member of their community. Many of those involved are young people.

The rally in San Francisco was supported by local Asian American politicians, leaders of Asian American, African American, Latino, and progressive community advocacy organizations, and from employees of the other atomic laboratories.