Freedom House Report: “The Worst Instance of Religious Persecution”

In a recent report from Freedom House, the persecution of Falun Gong in China was highlighted and analyzed in detail. Twenty two pages of the 142-page document focused on this severe, large-scale, human rights violation.

“The Battle for China’s Spirit,” published by Freedom House on February 28, 2017, has a 22-page section on Falun Gong with 118 third-party references.
“The Battle for China’s Spirit,” published by Freedom House on February 28, 2017, has a 22-page section on Falun Gong with 118 third-party references.

“[The Communist Party initiated] the worst instance of religious persecution since the Cultural Revolution, with the clampdown against Falun Gong,” cited in the report remarks from André Laliberté, a leading scholar from Ottawa University on religion in China.

With a title of “The Battle for China’s Spirit,” this report was published by Freedom House on February 28, 2017. A press conference was held in the morning of that day, hosted by Carolyn Bartholomew, chair of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Founded in 1941, Freedom House is a U.S. Government-funded non-governmental organization with a mission of a “clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world.”

Both the full report and a 40-page overview are available for download on the organization’s website. It is considered one of the most comprehensive reports from a major human rights organization.

Seventeen-Year-Long Ban

Starting with a group exercise photo from the Minghui website, the report reviewed the popularity of Falun Gong in 1990s, as well as the close tie between its principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance and the Chinese tradition. “In the 1990s, Chinese people from every stratum of society—including Communist Party members—began taking up Falun Gong,” wrote the report.

Nonetheless, Jiang Zemin, then the CCP general secretary and state president, decided to ban Falun Gong in 1999. “…once Jiang made the arbitrary and arguably illegal decision to ban Falun Gong, and asserted his will over other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, there were few institutional or legal obstacles to stop what came next.” This includes the launch of the 610 Office, which then drove the nationwide suppression and demonizing propaganda.

Despite 17 years of ban, tens of millions of people still practice Falun Gong in China today.

New Developments

Two developments were identified by the report related to the persecution. One of them is the harsh penalties against detained practitioners under Article 300 of the criminal code. At least 933 practitioners were imprisoned between January 2013 and June 2016, according to the report. “… 45-year-old Gao Yixi died in police custody in April 2016, just ten days after he and his wife were taken from their home under apparent suspicion of practicing Falun Gong.” In addition, practitioners were held at extralegal “legal education centers,” “black jails,” and pretrial detention centers. Many of them were sentenced to imprisonment.

The other development is the suppression of human rights lawyers who defended Falun Gong practitioners. For example, “In July 2015, Chinese security agencies launched an aggressive assault on the country’s contingent of human rights lawyers and the broader ‘rights defense’ movement, detaining over 300 lawyers and their assistants.”

On the other hand, evidence of cracks in the systemic repression has been observed. The report attributed this to several factors such as purge of key officials involved in the persecution, decade-long efforts from practitioners to raise awareness of the brutality, and others. In fact, after the Chinese Supreme Court eased filing procedures in May 2015, practitioners inside and outside of China have filed a large number of criminal complaints against Jiang Zemin, holding him responsible for the crimes.

Omnipresent Repression

In addition to detention, imprisonment, and torture, various methods and techniques were adopted by officials to mistreat practitioners. One example is electronic surveillance. “Falun Gong practitioners have been jailed for leaving voicemail recordings, posting messages to WeChat or QQ, or circumventing censorship to access blocked websites.”

Another strategy used by officials to “eradicate” Falun Gong is forcing practitioners to give up their belief. Citing a report from U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) in 2008, it was undertaken through “transformation,” “a process of ideological reprogramming whereby practitioners are subjected to various methods of physical and psychological coercion until they recant their belief in Falun Gong.”

To control information flow, Chinese officials heavily restricted online terms related to Falun Gong, punished behaviors of transmiting such information online or offline, and confiscated printed materials. Furthermore, officials employed many strategies to discourage potential supporters from helping practitioners.

“Taken together, these repressive activities seep into every corner of life and society—schools and workplaces, supermarkets and public transportation, passport requests and hukou residency registrations, laptops and smartphones,” wrote the report.

A large amount of resources have been expended to sustain the persecution. “… the estimated annual budget for all 6-10 Office branches nationwide is 879 million yuan ($135 million). And this is only for one part of the Party-state apparatus involved in the suppression of Falun Gong.”

Forced Organ Harvesting

Under the context of dehumanizing propaganda, these extralegal custodial abuse and economic inducements were later escalated to a new form—the killing of detained Falun Gong practitioners and sale of their organs for profit. After reviewing evidence from other investigators, doctors, hospital employees, and released practitioners, Freedom House “found credible evidence suggesting that beginning in the early 2000s, Falun Gong detainees were killed for their organs on a large scale.”

And such an atrocity continues. Based on the investigation work published in 2016 by David Kilgour, Ethan Gutmann, and David Matas, “…publicly available data on the number of transplants being conducted at medical institutions in China found that the scale is many times greater than the 10,000 transplants per year often cited by officials.” This highlights the increasing risk of Falun Gong practitioners and other prisoners of conscience.

Path Forward

“The simple fact that Falun Gong has survived the CCP’s onslaught is impressive and amounts to a genuine failure of the Party’s repressive apparatus,” said the report.

Through consistent, non-violent efforts from Falun Gong practitioners to raise awareness of and oppose the persecution, a large number of people chose to support practitioners. “Orders for arrests continue to come down from high-level authorities, but sometimes the Public Security Bureau agents will say no, they are only exercising to be healthy,” quoting the report remarks from a Chinese human rights lawyer in 2013.

After the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party was published in 2004, many people joined the efforts to sever ties with the Party. “As of November 2016, the overseas website tracking the tuidang movement claimed that over 255 million people inside and outside China had published statements,” wrote the report.

Nonetheless, as long as the persecution policy remains in effect, “Falun Gong practitioners throughout China continue to be detained, imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes killed in what is still a massive campaign of religious persecution,” concluded the report.

Chinese version available

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