U.S. Should Get Tougher on China’s Attacks Against Falun Gong
Let’s hope that increasing numbers of Americans will support the Falun Gong in their search for freedom from a degree of persecution that should sadly be called genocide.
Between July 16 and July 20, thousands of yellow-clad Falun Gong supporters took to the streets in Washington, New York, San Francisco, London, and elsewhere in their distinctively choreographed annual protest rallies against China’s relentless, decades-long human rights abuses. At the Washington, DC, event, a Hudson Institute expert on religious freedom rightly alleged that China was perpetrating a genocide against the Falun Gong.
Numerous U.S. government sources have acknowledged global reporting and scholarship on the persecution of the Falun Gong and significant, uncontroverted evidence of mass imprisonment, torture, and forced organ harvesting of perhaps millions. China’s acts meet the legal definition and scholarly description of genocide pursuant to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Falun Gong is a spirituality rooted in Buddhist and Daoist principles that was popularized in China beginning in 1992. Seven years later, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) saw this peaceful practice as its biggest threat.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, promotes the three principles of compassion, truth, and forbearance, which are apparently inimical to the CCP’s own philosophies of, for example, political power growing from the barrel of a gun (according to Mao Tse Tung in 1938).
The Falun Gong movement is a particular threat to the growing power of the CCP because it is often internal to Chinese businesses, universities, and the state. Falun Gong practitioners within China, forced into secrecy by state persecution, operate at least 200,000 “underground printing houses” within the totalitarian country, “in what likely constitutes the largest non-violent, grassroots resistance in the world,” according to a Falun Gong website.
Falun Gong practitioners have at times leaked critical information to publications established outside of China (full disclosure: the author frequently contributes to Epoch Times, which is one such publication established by Falun Gong). This makes Falun Gong a natural and powerful ally of all democracies seeking to reveal the truth about the atrocities committed by the CCP.
There were as many as 70 to 100 million Falun Gong practitioners globally in the late 1990s, according to various sources, including Chinese government media. This was greater than the number of CCP members at the time.
Increasingly adverse attention from the CCP forced the founder of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi (李洪志), to resettle in the United States in 1995. As negative attention increased, especially in state media, Falun Gong practitioners in China started to protest. This peaked on April 25, 1999, when at least 10,000 Falun Gong appealed to the CCP with a peaceful meditation at Zhongnanhai, China’s central government building in Beijing.
The Party felt threatened. It declared the movement a “heretical religion” and the biggest threat to state security since the democracy movement of 1989. CCP head Jiang Zemin banned Falun Gong on July 20, 1999, and established the Gestapo-like “610 office” to override the courts and police in China, where religious freedom is supposedly, but not really, protected by the Chinese constitution.
The persecution of Falun Gong that followed was implemented by CCP officials, such as Chen Quanguo (陈全国), and used “reeducation” techniques, that would later be part of the genocide against the Uyghurs. The persecution of Falun Gong in China is likewise an attempt “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” including by killing, and other bodily and mental harm, and is, therefore, a genocide pursuant to the UN definition.
Academic research has estimated the total number of liver and kidney transplants in China from 2000 to 2014, likely principally from the Falun Gong, to be as high as 1.5 million. The 2020 China Tribunal, held in London, cited statistics that indicate as many as 60,000 to 90,000 organ transplants annually (minus approximately 5,000 documented voluntary donors, revealing a gap of approximately 55,000 to 85,000 unexplained annual transplants).
The China Tribunal further found that, “Forced organ harvesting has happened in multiple places in the PRC and on multiple occasions for a period of at least 20 years and continues to this day…. In the long-term practice in the PRC of forced organ harvesting it was indeed Falun Gong practitioners who were used as a source – probably the principal source – of organs for forced organ harvesting.”
According to a 2015 Freedom House report, “Hundreds of thousands of [Falun Gong] adherents were sentenced to labor camps and prison terms, making them the largest contingent of prisoners of conscience in the country,” and I might add, the world. Falun Gong sources say that over the last twenty years in China, several million Falun Gong have been detained.
Freedom House in 2017 independently verified 933 cases of up to twelve-year sentences of Falun Gong between 2013 and 2016, often imposed solely for their religious beliefs. According to the nonprofit organization, “Available evidence suggests that forced extraction of organs from Falun Gong detainees for sale in transplant operations has occurred on a large scale and may be continuing.”
A critical part of the anti-Falun Gong campaign is the use of state media to portray practitioners as subhuman in order to justify their torture and eradication. According to the China Tribunal,
Acts of torture, generally, reveal an overall consistent attitude and approach of the Chinese state towards practitioners of Falun Gong, which is systematic in nature and designed to punish, ostracise, humiliate, dehumanise, demean and demonise practitioners of Falun Gong into renouncing and abandoning their practice of it. The PRC and its leaders actively incited such persecution for the sole purpose of eliminating the practice of, and belief in, Falun Gong.
The widespread and devastating effects of state media dehumanization of the Falun Gong should not be underestimated in a society without freedom of speech. Yet according to Freedom House, millions of Falun Gong in China have persisted over years of persecution. This month’s demonstrations commemorated the twenty-second anniversary of the CCP’s suppression of Falun Gong.
Increasingly, Americans are waking up to the genocide being perpetrated against the Falun Gong. Politicians are taking action in a bipartisan manner. Of seventeen U.S. Senators and Representatives who supported a Falun Gong request to show support on the twenty-second anniversary of its persecution, eight were Democratic, and nine Republican. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) both showed support in separate July 20 statements for the Falun Gong and for religious freedom more generally.
This year, the Democratic Representatives who showed support, and therefore deserve public credit, have been Zoe Lofgren (California), Mike Doyle (Pennsylvania), Bill Foster (Illinois), Sean Maloney (New York), Dean Phillips (Minnesota), David Trone (Maryland), Juan Vargas (California), and Gerald Connolly (Virginia). The Republicans were Elise Stefanik (New York), Gus Bilirakis (Florida), Vicky Hartzler (Missouri), Tim Walberg (Michigan), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Glenn Grothman (Wisconsin), and Jack Burgman (Michigan).
Senator Menendez, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, provided a best-in-class July 20 statement on the Falun Gong. “Twenty-two years ago today, the People’s Republic of China undertook a ruthless and brutal crackdown against the followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement that continues to this day,” he wrote in a letter. “In the more than two decades since, tens of thousands of Chinese citizens have been persecuted for their religious beliefs, imprisoned, tortured, subjected to forced labor, and credible allegations of organ harvesting.”
Senator Rubio made a similarly pitch-perfect statement on July 20. “The CCP has detained Falun Gong practitioners, and in some cases, multiple times, in ‘transformation-through-reeducation’ centers – a preview of the ongoing mass internment and acts of genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang. CCP officials have subjected Falun Gong practitioners to physical and sexual assault, forced labor, and torture to make them renounce their beliefs. Even more disturbing are the credible allegations of forced organ harvesting.”
A May 12 U.S. State Department report on religious freedom noted reports of up to tens of millions of Falun Gong practitioners in the country, arrests of over 6,600 in 2019, and over 600 sentenced to up to fourteen years in prison. The report noted torture and deprivation of food and medical care to practitioners in prison, and referred to evidence of forced organ harvesting, including as found in reports by the China Tribunal and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC).
The State Department cited media reports that “authorities broke into the home of a Falun Gong practitioner, pinned her down, and forcibly took a sample of her blood, telling her it was ‘required by the state.’ One officer shouted, ‘The law does not apply to you. We’re going to wipe you all out.’”
At the release of the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken rightly imposed a visa ban on China’s Yu Hui and his family for this official’s complicity with the arbitrary detentions of Falun Gong believers.
The 2021 United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report also noted the persecution of Falun Gong in China and evidence of forced organ harvesting. “According to reports, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were harassed and arrested during 2020 for practicing their faith, and some likely died due to abuse and torture while in custody,” it stated. “Credible international reports also suggested that organ harvesting, including from Falun Gong practitioners, likely continued.”