Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice rooted in Buddhist tradition, meditation exercises, and moral improvement. After being introduced to the public by Mr. Li Hongzhi in 1992, the practice gained enormous popularity — attracting tens of millions of followers in China and beyond.
However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) viewed Falun Gong’s rapid rise in popularity, which included many high-ranking Party members taking up the practice, as a threat to its authoritarian regime. Consequently, the CCP launched an all-out persecution and smear campaign to eradicate the practice and silence its followers. Since then, at least 4,365 Falun Gong adherents are confirmed to have perished at the hands of the Chinese authorities, with the number still on the rise.
Every year, Minghui.com, a U.S.-based website that documents the persecution of Falun Gong, releases a comprehensive report to highlight and bring awareness to the plight of Falun Gong practitioners in China. The 2023 report, which was released on Jan. 9, provides a harrowing account of a targeted oppression campaign that has not abated in over 20 years.
The report, which is corroborated by local media and first-hand accounts, offers a disturbing view of the systemic oppression and human rights’ abuses in China.
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In 2023, Minghui’s report unveiled 209 new cases of death due to persecution. But based on the testimonies of those living under perpetual harassment by the CCP’s various security organizations, the real number of deaths is speculated to be in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions.
1. Deaths in custody and post-release
According to the report, the deaths were split between those occurring in custody and those following release — often as a result of sustained abuse and medical neglect.
- In-custody deaths: Among the 18 practitioners who died in custody, their stories tell of brutal physical torture and extreme mental torment. The case of Ms. Hu Yongxiu, who died just six days following her arrest, and Mr. Li Peigao, who died days before his release, exemplifies the cruelty of China’s detention system.
- Post-release deaths: The report documents cases where practitioners, released in critical condition, died shortly thereafter. This strategy — seemingly aimed at avoiding accountability for in-custody deaths — further highlights the systemic nature of the persecution and the callous disregard for human life by the authorities.
2. A spectrum of torture
The report also details various forms of torture inflicted upon practitioners by Chinese police. These ranged from physical abuse like torture sessions using electric batons, force-feeding, and beatings, to psychological torment, including sexual assault, sleep depravation, and starvation. These acts, which violate the most basic human rights, are indicative of a broader campaign to suppress Falun Gong adherents through fear, harassment, and intimidation.
- Electric shock torture: The youngest victim identified in the report was 30-year-old radio presenter Mr. Pang Xun, who lost his life due to physical abuse while serving a five-year sentence in a prison in Sichuan Province. The report revealed that Mr. Pang’s post-mortem body bore the evidence of his ordeal — marked by electric shock injuries, force-feeding, and signs of being restrained with ropes and chains.
Mr. Pang was also subjected to electric shocks on sensitive parts of his body, which caused excruciating pain and severe burn marks. According to the report, Mr. Pang was forced to wear a straitjacket for up to 20 hours a day, despite having open wounds from the shocks and beatings. This method of torture is not only used to inflict physical harm, but also serves as a tool for mental intimidation — aiming to break the will and spirit of the practitioner.
- Forced physical labor and sexual assault: Another case described in the report is that of a female practitioner who was subjected to forced physical labor for extended amounts of time. In addition, she faced sexual assault at the hands of her captors. This dual form of abuse highlights the extent of dehumanization and degradation targeting practitioners — with the intent of humiliating them and suppressing their beliefs.
3) Bogus sentences
In 2023 alone, 1,188 practitioners were sentenced to jail under hazy “subversion charges”, with the average sentence being three years, the report notes. It also highlights the widespread nature of these sentences across various provinces, with Shandong Province leading in the number of verdicts. The sentencing of young and elderly practitioners — the oldest being 89 and youngest, 22 — also raises serious concerns about the disregard for basic human decency in the Chinese legal system.
4) The unseen scourge: harassment and discrimination
Minghui’s report also sheds light on the 6,514 cases of harassment against Falun Gong practitioners in 2023. These included job losses, forced indoctrination (brain-washing) sessions, and other discriminatory practices. This aspect of the persecution — often overlooked — illustrates the pervasive nature of the CCP’s campaign against Falun Gong, which target and affect every aspect of practitioners’ lives.
Since the persecution began, many Falun Gong followers have also been subject to relentless harassment, surveillance, arrests, and arbitrary imprisonment.
- Raids and forced indoctrination: The report highlights how practitioners were forced to attend classes where they were subjected to “anti-Falun Gong propaganda” — aimed at coercing them to renounce their beliefs. This psychological harassment was often accompanied by threats of job loss, or actual dismissal from their places of employment.
In several cases, practitioners who refused to comply with the demands to abandon their faith faced not only professional repercussions but also social isolation, as their colleagues and community members were pressured to distance themselves from anyone associated with the practice.
A call for action
Despite the CCP’s extensive efforts to eradicate and intimidate Falun Gong followers and supporters, the practice has only gained momentum in recent years. Today, an increasing number of government bodies, advocates, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are stepping forward to condemn China on its human rights’ track record.
While the report highlights the grim reality of a brutal, targeted crackdown that has lasted over 20 years, it also raises awareness of the Chinese authorities’ blatant disregard for human life and basic decency. It also calls for increased international attention and intervention to address these human rights’ violations and hold the CCP accountable.