The Persecution of Falun Gong
Overview of Persecution
While Falun Gong is practiced openly in the 70-plus countries where it is found, today in its homeland of China it is subject to well-documented egregious human rights violations. The scale and scope of abuses taking place make this possibly the largest religious persecution in the world today.
Suppression officially began on July 22, 1999 following years of escalating state abuses (timeline).
One basic explanation for the seemingly irrational campaign is the proclivities of China’s atheist Communist Party (the CCP), which fears all groups outside its control – particularly ones that subscribe to a different ideology.
The Party has tried several times to eradicate all expressions of religion from China (a country traditionally referred to as “the land of the divine”). To this day Roman Catholics, many Protestants, and Tibetan Buddhists cannot worship freely in China and are at constant risk of detention and torture. By 1999, Falun Gong became a natural target as it was the largest – and fastest growing – spiritual group in China with 100 million practitioners nation-wide, according to Chinese Government reports at the time.
Others have noted that the decision to launch the campaign is linked to former-Party head Jiang Zemin’s “fear” and “jealousy” of Falun Gong. According to analyst Willy Lam (news), Jiang has been seen as “using the mass movement to promote allegiance to himself.” Sources cited by the Washington Post, state that, “Jiang Zemin alone decided that Falun Gong must be eliminated,” and “picked what he thought was an easy target.” (more about the origins of the campaign).
Perhaps the most prominent feature of the campaign has been its prevalent use of extreme torture. Torture of Falun Gong adherents has been documented in each of China’s provinces, in jails, labor camps, brainwashing centers, and schools in China’s big cities, small towns, and villages.
Popular torture techniques include shocking with electric batons, burning with irons, tying the body in painful positions for days, force-feeding saline solutions through a plastic tube inserted up the nose, and prying out fingernails with bamboo shoots, to name a few; rape and sexual torture of the Falun Gong in detention are prevalent as well.
To date over 3,000 deaths have been documented, as well as over 63,000 accounts of torture. An estimate of the real figure puts the actual death toll in the tens of thousands (more about torture)
When the persecution was launched in 1999, tens of millions of Chinese who practiced the meditation discipline were faced with a choice. One option was to again surrender to the Communist Party and abandon a practice that had brought them better health, spiritual guidance, and, invariably, newfound hope. A second option seemed to be to continue practicing quietly at home – but as raids quickly showed, this was impossible even if one were able to turn a blind eye to the persecution of family and friends. A final option was to openly resist the persecution in spite of knowing full well what the painful consequences might be.
Indeed, those who chose the latter have most commonly faced forms of oppression that do not make headlines – dismissal from work, expulsion from universities, deprivation of health care and pensions, divorce, homelessness, and a range of other forms of discrimination (more about: persecution in the family, persecution at work and school, and destitution).
For hundreds of thousands, the most basic reality of the campaign has been long periods of detention in “reform through labor” camps – China’s Gulag system. There they are forced to work up to 20 hours per day, producing – without pay – toys, Christmas tree lights, chopsticks, and soccer balls for export. Those who refuse are tortured (more about arbitrary detention and slavery).
Be it in labor camps, jails, or in special reeducation centers, all detained Falun Gong practitioners have been forced to undergo what can only be described as brainwashing. The Communist Party’s goal is to force these people to renounce their spiritual beliefs and come to view Falun Gong as dangerous, as well as to turn in others who are active in exposing the persecution.
The key ingredients of the brainwashing process, or what the Party calls “transformation,” is sleep deprivation, hours on end of staring at videos vilifying Falun Gong, threats, and Cultural Revolution-style “struggle sessions”. Some particularly “stubborn” individuals who refuse to transform are injected with psychotropic drugs in asylums as treatment for the mental disorder of incorrect political thinking (more about psychological persecution).
The Party’s ultimate solution for the vast number of incarcerated Falun Gong adherents, however, is much more terrifying. According to current and former hospital employees, the Falun Gong have been used in reverse organ-matching – they have been killed by the thousands so that their organs can be used for on-demand transplants.
Livers, kidneys, hearts, and cornea are removed from the living, anesthetized Falun Gong adherents with matching blood-types and sold to Party officials and other desperate-yet-wealthy individuals from China and abroad. Undercover investigators’ phone calls to Chinese hospitals have caught doctors boasting about this practice on tape (more about organ harvesting).
But, as in every genocide of the twentieth century, extreme violence first required dehumanization of “the other” through propaganda. Indeed, one key measure in the Party’s suppression has been to limit, and distort, information about Falun Gong—both in China and elsewhere.