The month of July is host to one of the most solemn and tragic anniversaries in the history of human society: the beginning of the 22-year-long persecution of the 100 million practitioners of Falun Gong, an ancient spiritual Chinese cultivation practice of the mind and body involving exercises and meditation, by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
On July 16, practitioners assembled in Washington D.C., to memorialize those who have lost their lives at the hands of the CCP while upholding their beliefs, to call for an end to the persecution, and to urge citizens, businesses, and governments alike to hold China’s 100-year-old communist regime responsible for its crimes.
Levi Browde, Executive Director of the Falun Dafa Information Center, told NTD Television that when the persecution first began on July 20, 1999 at the hands of former CCP Chairman Jiang Zemin, U.S.-based practitioners did everything they could to capture the attention of the U.S. government and inform the public about the truth of what was happening.
As nearly 22 years of persecution have passed, Browde said the annual commemorations have transformed into rallies that have served as a platform for officials, human rights advocates, and religious freedom groups to speak out against the persecution. “The point is to tell the American people and tell the American Government exactly what’s happening to Falun Gong and why it matters for both the practitioners of Falun Gong in China, but really, for America as well,” said Browde.
Falun Gong (法輪功), also known as Falun Dafa (法輪大法), is a free-to-learn qigong practice similar in form to tai chi. The practice, spread in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, is based on the foundational principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance (真善忍), with an emphasis on cultivation, improvement of an individual’s character in daily life and social conflicts, and traditional values based on China’s 5,000 years of pre-communist civilization.
The practice was widely popular, adding more than 100 million Chinese citizens from all walks of life to its ranks before Jiang, fearing for his personal legacy and power, launched a nationwide suppression campaign at a scale unseen since Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Jiang used his power to suppress Falun Gong despite total opposition from all other Politburo Standing Committee members and a core tenant enacted by Mr. Li from the time of Falun Gong’s inception, which forbade the practice from being involved in any level of China’s politics.
Despite the official change in power from Jiang to Hu Jintao in 2003, and to Xi Jinping in 2013, the persecution persists to this day.
China needs to change
Speaking at the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit on July 15, former U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom-at-Large, Sam Brownback emphasized that the onus is on China to change itself, “We’re going to get a number of other countries on board until China changes, and opens up to human rights and things like religious freedom.”
Brownback, who is currently Co-Chairman of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit 2021 Steering Committee and IRF Ambassador-at-Large emphasized that religious freedom is currently “the most abused human right in the world,” but noted “it won’t be if we will stand for each other.”
“We’ve just got to continue to put it in front of the face of the people and say, forced organ harvesting. That is unbelievable that would happen in this day and age, and it’s got to stop,” Brownback said, referencing the Communist Party’s unprecedented crime of forced organ harvesting against Falun Gong’s adherents.
The crime, which involves the forcible surgical removal of vital organs from detained practitioners for sale on the international black market, was first uncovered by former Canadian Secretary of State Asia-Pacific David Kilgour and Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas in an independent 2009 investigation and encapsulated in a Bloody Harvest report.
Brownback added, “And we need to believe it, and to know what’s happening and oppose it until it is stopped.”
Accountability is crucial
IRF Co-Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett, who is also President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights, said the CCP’s brazenness results from the world timidly failing to hold the Party accountable, “I feel very strongly that the world does not hold China accountable.”
“China is one of the biggest abusers of human rights in the world today, one community that has suffered unimaginable cruelty at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party is the Falun Gong, for example, victims of mass incarceration, forced organ harvesting, and all sorts of really unimaginable persecutions.”
Since Jiang’s persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999, the U.S. government has only sanctioned CCP officials twice. The first was in December 2020 when former President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo barred Xiamen City police official Huang Yuanxiong and his wife from entering the U.S. for what was described by the State Department as “particularly severe violations of religious freedom of Falun Gong practitioners.”
The second was in May of this year when current President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken saddled Yu Hui, an Office Director of the Chengdu branch of the Central Leading Group of the now-defunct 610 Office created by Jiang and his loyalists specifically to persecute Falun Gong, and his family with sanctions forbidding them from entering the United States.
Yu was targeted by the State Department for his “involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely the arbitrary detention of Falun Gong practitioners for their spiritual beliefs.”
Swett also remarked she was clear that China’s dictatorship does not rule based on law and order, instead relying on censorship, propaganda, surveillance, terror, and violence. Because of the true face of the Communist regime, she said, “I hope and pray that as with the old Soviet Union… it would come down… I also believe the same will happen with the Chinese Communist Party.”
The persecution is genocide
Nina Shea, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, called on the Biden administration to formally designate the CCP’s atrocities against Falun Gong as genocide as it has the campaign against Uyghurs, “It’s time that the United States recognize what is happening, the genocide occurring against practitioners of Falun Gong in China.”
Shea said that the designation of genocide should be described as the destruction of a religious community “with the intent to eradicate it.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt what has happened these past decades to Falun Gong meets that criteria. This is the most heinous human rights crime. It’s engraved in the American heart that we will never again tolerate this,” said Shea, confirming adherents had been subject to torture, prison, and “black jails” in addition to organ harvesting.
She said although the CCP has been doing everything it can to deny and cover up the campaign of organ harvesting over the last 15 years, the evidence is “absolutely irrefutable.”
Dr. Kurt Werthmuller, Supervisory Policy Analyst at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a U.S. federal government commission, spoke at the event about holding Beijing accountable, “The United States and its like minded partners around the world must do their part to meaningfully hold the CCP accountable for these atrocities.”
Werthmuller noted that his Commission has been calling on the State Department to designate China as a “country of particular concern” since its very first report 21 years ago.
“We have urged the U.S. government to take consequential actions to hold the Chinese government accountable. We continue to urge the U.S. government to pursue a multilateral approach, working together with international partners to expose the CCP’s abuses, and to impose targeted sanctions against Chinese officials and entities responsible for religious freedom violations.”
Werthmuller also called for the Biden administration to announce a diplomatic boycott against the upcoming 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Director of Advocacy for Freedom House, Annie Boyajian, also spoke at the event, thanking practitioners for their commitment in “standing up for those who are persecuted in China.”
Boyajian said Freedom House’s data on the Party’s persecution against Falun Gong over the last year has shown that “The regime’s campaign to eradicate the Falun Gong spiritual practice has continued unabated over the last year,” noting evidence of hundreds of members having been sentenced to lengthy prison terms or subjected to “re-education” camps that directly involve severe abuse and torture with the goal of forcing them to abandon their beliefs.
According to Boyajian, many Party officials who are now involved in the U.S.-designated genocide against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region by the CCP have forged the credentials needed to rise in rank through first persecuting Falun Gong.
With reporting by Juliet Wei