ORANGE COUNTY, New York — On July 22, in the quaint village of Goshen, New York, a group of over one hundred residents came together to bring awareness to the ongoing persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual discipline that combines meditation exercises with moral teachings centered around the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. In the early 1990s, the practice blossomed within the boundaries of China, reaching a scale that saw an estimated one in every thirteen Chinese citizens taking up the practice.
But after witnessing its rapid rise in popularity, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) perceived it as a potential threat to its authoritarian regime. This sparked an aggressive eradication and propaganda campaign to suppress and wipe out the practice on July 20, 1999. To this day, the persecution continues unabated, and thousands of Falun Gong adherents have since died from torture and abuse at the hands of Chinese police.
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Unity and resolve
During the event, the president of Falun Gong’s Orange County Club, Liam O’Neil, took the stand to say, “This is a day of mourning, it is a day of sadness, but it is also a day of great hope for humanity because more and more people are waking up to what Falun Gong is and what this persecution is.”
The rally drew the support of many local residents and politicians. Deerpark Republican and New York Assembly Minority Whip, Karl Brabenec, sent his support via a letter of proclamation — drawing from a personal family history of escaping communist oppression. “Let us stand together across borders and boundaries to be the agents of change that ensure a brighter future for all those people everywhere oppressed by injustice,” said Brabenec.
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In its quest to raise awareness, the rally spotlighted the lengths to which the Chinese communist regime has gone to conceal the persecution in China. This includes exerting influence over media outlets on U.S. soil, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
Mount Hope Chinese Association spokesperson, Chris Cheng, pointed out other incidents of harassment against Falun Gong adherents by the CCP, including a death threat he received for organizing an event that exposed the Chinese regime, and the use of hackers to steal Americans’ private data.
On the right side of history
Despite these hurdles, the local Falun Gong association remained undeterred, hosting four seminars in Orange County to raise awareness of the harm of the communist regime — with a commitment for more to come.
Steven Esposito, a lifelong resident of Goshen, expressed his concern, “It is terrible that they have to have this rally to make people aware of this tragedy.” Despite the grim circumstances, Al Beers, a resident of the town of Florida, New York, expressed his optimism to The Epoch Times, “Truth and good will triumph over evil, though not right away. With time, it will.”
The rally also drew the attendance of nearby residents. Goshen local and musician Bob Torsello was one of many hearing about Falun Gong for the first time at the rally. Struggling to understand why the CCP would target a peaceful practice that has benefited so many people, he told The Epoch Times, “[Falun Gong] is such a positive practice of the mind and body. How could that be a threat to the government? It is very difficult for me to comprehend.”
A closer look
Ben Maloney, a representative from the Falun Dafa Information Center, shared the factors that he believes spurred the CCP’s persecution against the practice. These included: the practice’s burgeoning popularity, the perceived threat it posed to the political motives of then-party leader Jiang Zemin, the contrasting values of the practice to established communist ideologies, and the unwavering independence of its practitioners from any form of Party influence or control.
“After all, if you believe in something deep in your heart, that’s not something that the Chinese Communist Party can take away from you,” said Maloney.
Maloney also highlighted the use of imprisonment, torture, and killing — including state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting — as primary tools of persecution in a campaign that has resulted in more than 5,000 documented deaths to date.
The accounts of Falun Gong practitioners hit closer to home when Mount Hope resident Lydia Wang took the floor. She narrated the torment that her family experienced under the CCP’s crackdown on Falun Gong, including numerous detentions and the tragic death of her father.
Earlier this year, Wang’s mother was arrested for the eleventh time in China, and received a four-year prison sentence. The CCP had targeted Wang’s family partly due to her brother, Steven Wang, who is a principal dancer for Shen Yun Performing Arts: an acclaimed performing arts company based in Orange County, New York that aims to revive authentic Chinese culture, values, and arts prior to the ravages of communism.
Wang expressed her heartfelt plea to the attendees, saying, “I do not know when this persecution will end. I do not know if I can see my mother again. I hope people in China and around the world will be able to hear our stories, understand what the Chinese government is doing to its people, and choose to stand on the right side of history.”
Grace Chen, a student at Fei Tian College in Middletown, also revealed that both her parents were detained in China due to their faith in Falun Gong.
With scarce information about their location or possible release dates, she lamented, “I haven’t seen them for a long time, and there were many moments when I needed them and wanted them to stay with me. They missed my [18th] birthday and my high school graduation.”