Persecution of Falun Gong

Falun Gong practitioner arrested by police in Tiananmen Square in 2001

The persecution of Falun Gong is the antireligious campaign initiated in 1999 by the Chinese Communist Party to eliminate the spiritual practice of Falun Gong in China, which maintains a doctrine of state atheism.[1] It is characterized by a multifaceted propaganda campaign, a program of enforced ideological conversion and re-education and a variety of extralegal coercive measures such as reportedly arbitrary arrests, forced labor and physical torture, sometimes resulting in death.[2]

Falun Gong is a modern qigong discipline combining slow-moving exercises and meditation with a moral philosophy centered on the tenets of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. It was founded by Li Hongzhi, who introduced it to the public in May 1992 in Changchun, Jilin. Following a period of rapid growth in the 1990s, the Communist Party launched a campaign to "eradicate" Falun Gong on 20 July 1999.[3]

An extra-constitutional body called the 6-10 Office was created to lead the persecution of Falun Gong.[4] The authorities mobilized the state media apparatus, judiciary, police, army, the education system, families and workplaces against the group.[5] The campaign was driven by large-scale propaganda through television, newspaper, radio and Internet.[6] There are reports of systematic torture,[7][8] illegal imprisonment, forced labor, organ harvesting[9] and abusive psychiatric measures, with the apparent aim of forcing practitioners to recant their belief in Falun Gong.[3]

Foreign observers estimate that hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained in "re-education through labor" camps, prisons and other detention facilities for refusing to renounce the spiritual practice.[4][10] Former prisoners have reported that Falun Gong practitioners consistently received "the longest sentences and worst treatment" in labor camps, and in some facilities Falun Gong practitioners formed the substantial majority of detainees.[11][12] As of 2009, at least 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners had been reportedly tortured to death in the persecution campaign.[13] Some international observers and judicial authorities have described the campaign against Falun Gong as a genocide.[14][15] In 2009, courts in Spain and Argentina indicted senior Chinese officials for genocide and crimes against humanity for their role in orchestrating the suppression of Falun Gong.[16][17][18]

In 2006, allegations emerged that many Falun Gong practitioners had been killed to supply China's organ transplant industry.[9][19] An initial investigation found that "the source of 41,500 transplants for the six year period 2000 to 2005 is unexplained" and concluded that "there has been and continues today to be large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners".[9] Ethan Gutmann estimates 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs from 2000 to 2008.[20][21] Following additional analysis, the researchers significantly raised the estimates on the number of Falun Gong practitioners who may have been targeted for organ harvesting.[22] In 2008 United Nations Special Rapporteurs reiterated their requests for "the Chinese government to fully explain the allegation of taking vital organs from Falun Gong practitioners and the source of organs for the sudden increase in organ transplants that has been going on in China since the year 2000".[23]

Background

Practitioners performing the third Falun Gong's exercise in Toronto

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a form of spiritual qigong practice that involves meditation, energy exercises, and a moral philosophy drawing on Buddhist tradition. The practice was first taught publicly by Li Hongzhi in Northeast China in the spring of 1992, towards the end of China's "qigong boom."[24][25]

Falun Gong initially enjoyed considerable official support during the early years of its development. It was promoted by the state-run Qigong Association and other government agencies. By the mid-1990s, however, Chinese authorities sought to rein in the influence of qigong practices and enacted more stringent requirements on the country's various qigong denominations.[24] In 1995 authorities mandated that all qigong groups establish Communist Party branches. The government also sought to formalize ties with Falun Gong and exercise greater control over the practice. Falun Gong resisted co-optation, and instead filed to withdraw altogether from the state-run qigong association.[25]

Following this severance of ties to the state, the group came under increasing criticism and surveillance from the country's security apparatus and propaganda department. Falun Gong books were banned from further publication in July 1996, and official news outlets began criticizing the group as a form of "feudal superstition," whose "theistic" orientation was at odds with the official ideology and national agenda.[24]

Tensions continued to escalate through the late 1990s. By 1999, surveys estimated as many as 70 million people were practicing Falun Gong in China.[26] Although some government agencies and senior officials continued expressing support for the practices, others grew increasingly wary of its size and capacity for independent organization.[25]

On 22 April 1999, several dozen Falun Gong practitioners were beaten and arrested in the city of Tianjin while staging a peaceful sit-in.[27][28] The practitioners were told that the arrest order came from the Ministry of Public Security, and that those arrested could be released only with the approval of Beijing authorities.[28][29][30]

On 25 April, upwards of 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners assembled peacefully near the Zhongnanhai government compound in Beijing to request the release of the Tianjin practitioners and an end to the escalating harassment against them. It was Falun Gong practitioners' attempt to seek redress from the leadership by going to them and, "albeit very quietly and politely, making it clear that they would not be treated so shabbily."[31] It was the first mass demonstration at the Zhongnanhai compound in PRC history, and the largest protest in Beijing since 1989. Several Falun Gong representatives met with then-premier Zhu Rongji, who assured them that the government was not against Falun Gong, and promised that the Tianjin practitioners would be released. The crowd outside dispersed peacefully, apparently believing that their demonstration had been a success.[30]

Security czar and politburo member Luo Gan was less conciliatory, and called on Jiang Zemin, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China to find a decisive solution to the Falun Gong problem.[32]