July 23rd, 2013
01:50 PM ET

U.S. should press China over Falun Gong

By Katrina Lantos Swett and Mary Ann Glendon, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Katrina Lantos Swett is chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Mary Ann Glendon is vice chairwoman of USCIRF. The views expressed are their own.

As much of the world’s attention has been focused on the huge human rights abuses in Syria, a severely persecuted group from China has quietly marked nearly a decade-and-a-half since the start of a brutal campaign of detention, defamation and public degradation.

On July 20, the Falun Gong – a peaceful movement founded in 1992 and characterized by the practice of meditation exercises and moral precepts – marked 14 years since the launch of a government campaign against it. It is time for Washington and the world to take note of its plight.

Beijing’s efforts against the Falun Gong, which stem from fears over its substantial growth as an independent-minded group thriving outside of Communist ideology and control, have been remarkable. The government has mobilized the whole of Chinese society – from media to the police, from education to the judiciary – specifically against its members. Relentless propaganda campaigns label practitioners as “obsessed,” “evil,” “unbalanced,” and cult-like threats to the nation. The government is alleged to have created an extra-legal police force, called the 6-10 Office, which hunts, arrests, and detains them without trial in “re-education-through-labor” centers, where they are tortured and mistreated and may constitute half of the inmates. Practitioners also are sent to psychiatric hospitals where they are reportedly involuntarily administered drugs, electric shock, and beatings.

Those who are brought to trial have seen their lawyers stripped of their legal licenses or imprisoned. One of China's most famous political prisoners, Gao Zhisheng, has endured a decade of torture and imprisonment partly for the “crime” of performing legal work in their defense.

There is chilling evidence to suggest that a horrific and prolific business in transplant organs has been sustained by those harvested without consent from Falun Gong and other prisoners,  benefiting China’s organ tourism industry. Indeed, Chinese officials have acknowledged organ harvesting from prisoners is a problem and vowed to tackle it. But given the lack of transparency in China, it is impossible to determine whether meaningful steps have actually been taken to end this appalling abuse of fundamental human rights.

Most Americans know little to nothing about China’s assault on the Falun Gong. We know more about Tibetan Buddhists and unregistered Christian groups or pro-democracy and free speech advocates such as Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei.  When it comes to the Falun Gong, theirs has been a hidden persecution that has gone on in plain sight for too long.

When confronted about their abuse of the Falun Gong, Chinese officials repeat their own propaganda, calling practitioners mentally unbalanced (ironically for holding fast to their beliefs despite government duress), dangerous to “public health,” or enemies of the state.

In truth, the problem lies not with the Falun Gong, but with the Chinese government’s fear of dissent and its contempt for basic human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief. As a matter of simple dignity, as well as human rights, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials should raise the issue of the Falun Gong in the upcoming U.S.-China human rights dialogue in Beijing.

China’s persecution of the Falun Gong also reveals an abject failure to respect the rule of law. President Xi Jinping should be pressed to fulfill his promises to establish the rule of law by abolishing organizations like the 6-10 Office and re-education centers and immediately cease the abhorrent practice of involuntary organ harvesting from Falun Gong and other prisoners, while ceasing to harass lawyers who defend Falun Gong and other sensitive political cases.

Finally, the ruthless crackdown on Falun Gong highlights China’s continued pursuit of internet censorship. Falun Gong materials and websites are the most blocked content in China. The U.S. should support the increased availability of proven firewall circumvention technologies to individuals and businesses operating in China. An open internet is one crucial way to advance human rights and democracy while promoting freedom of religion and belief. It is also a vital necessity for China’s millions of businesses.

Ultimately, the story of the Falun Gong is a story of the Chinese Communist Party’s reliance on walls to shore up its own power and shield itself from critics. From prison walls to walls of legal discrimination and firewalls of the internet, China’s leaders fear openness and freedom as they seek to elevate China’s status as a great power. But hiding from freedom is no way for a great power to behave. The United States should press China to allow the free commerce of beliefs and ideas to prevail, starting with Falun Gong practitioners.

Topics: China • Human Rights

soundoff (119 Responses)
  1. David

    Falon Gong is not peaceful; it's a cult. Is whoever wrote this on their payroll?

    July 26, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Reply
    • Lian

      ...And this is precisely why we need more articles like this.

      July 27, 2013 at 12:21 am | Reply
    • Ben

      Falun Gong's anti-persecution effort is one of the most peaceful actions in the world today. Only violent actions get to headline and the most peaceful ones get ignored? Thanks for this article to bring awareness to the decade and half long human rights abuse in Communist China.

      August 8, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Reply
    • truth2014

      Hi David?

      Falun Gong is truly peaceful, and is not a cult. Only those with an agenda against faith, non CCP ideology, 50 cents party or lead astray by CCP propaganda would make a statement such as yours.

      August 15, 2013 at 10:41 am | Reply
      • David

        I don't know if you have been in China, or if you are from China, but I have lived in China and talked with a great many people there, and in my experience what the Falon Gong does is not peaceful. I don't know what your connection to the Falun Gong is, but if you're just reading information online, I would suggest getting other opinions. Like I said, in my experience, they seem more like a cult-group than anything else.

        August 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Ton

      "David", could it be that you are on the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) payroll ? What you are doing is typical of the tactics the CCP uses around the world to get people confused and take the focus off of the atrocities that's happening in China right now. Thank you CNN for publishing this article. When people know and understand the truth of what is happening, they can speak with wisdom and make better informed decisions.

      September 29, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Reply
      • David

        I'm simply talking from experience. Since I've returned to the US I've had a few friends bring up the subject and I'm surprised how little information or research has gone into forming such adamant opinions. I'm not in any way denying the China has committed exceedingly atrocious human rights violations, and they continue to persecute Christians and other religions because they're afraid of any ideology that might take any power. However, they also subdue a long list of dangerous and violent cults and hold at bay the chaos and danger these cults bring (such as Lighting From the East and other cults like them). Just because the CCP opposes something doesn't mean we Americans should approve of it.

        September 30, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • Kaela

      Hi, David. I come from China. I've already heard some other people said bad side about Falun Gong, but one of my friend practiced Falun Gong. She is the best people I've seen. She told me her master tole her to be a Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance people. Base on this, I want to say Falun Gong is good because I saw it; I hear it and I feel it. I'm not the guy who always hear from other people, I'm the guy who find the truth by myself. I'm pretty sure justice will definitely defeat the evil.

      October 6, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Reply
      • David

        Hi Kaela,

        I hope you are correct. The reports I heard from local Chinese while living abroad in China were the opposite. Sometimes people say "seek truth, compassion, and forbearance" but they give people convincing lies instead of truth, control instead of compassion, and demands instead of forbearance. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference at first if people are very clever. But, like I say, I hope your version of the story is accurate.

        I appreciate your comments.

        October 7, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  2. Vsaman

    Very informative article on the persecution of Falun Gong, which is not covered much in media. We need to see more articles on the persecution and organ harvesting. The communist party in China has ben persecuting Falun Gong for 14 years….it is ridiculous to persecute good people who live by Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance and practice meditation. The horrific atrocity of harvesting organs and the persecution of Falun Gong must stop!

    July 27, 2013 at 12:14 am | Reply
    • Really?

      That's what you call people who harass Chinese tourists and make death threats against them for not believing in the same ideology? You can see such examples of at popular Chinese tourist destinations, I know.... They threatened my grandma! That by any means is NOT peaceful and compassionate. The cult is also not truthful if you've studied the REAL Buddhism and Taoism, they claim it's a mix, but it's really no different from Mormonism and Christianity.

      July 27, 2013 at 9:33 am | Reply
      • truth2014

        Falun Gong would not make threats. I assume you are stretching the truth or just slandering Falun Gong. Falun Gong is part of Buddha School.

        August 7, 2013 at 11:57 am |
      • Really?

        @ Truth, stop telling lies, you're attacking me not my arguments, just like the "protesters" that attacked my grandma.

        August 29, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  3. Lian

    Thank you for drawing attention to this very important topic.

    July 27, 2013 at 12:20 am | Reply
  4. forumids

    Congratulations on having the courage to write this! It's time to not only press the government to confront China, but also to demand that they come clean with what they know about this horrendous genocide. By remaining silent and covering up for the Chinese Communist Party, the US govt is already accomplice to these unspeakable crimes. Our nation and people should not unknowingly be getting dragged into this! We deserve to know so we can make our own choice!

    July 27, 2013 at 1:01 am | Reply
  5. Adam Miller

    Thank you so much for this great article! Those who post wry comments with an agenda to negate the facts are revealing their own poor character. And, most sadly, with each comment they make, they mark themselves as accomplices to torture and murder.

    August 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  6. Really?

    @ Truth, and no it isn't part of the original Buddha teachings it was only created only less than 20 years ago. So blinded by the mob/cult mentality.

    August 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Reply
  7. Chris

    This is no small matter. The persecution of Falun Gong is actually much worse than described here. There is a literal holocaust in mainland China – right now. Not many wanted to beleive what was going on in Germany until there was no choice but to aknowledge it either. This has been happening on a massive scale for almost 15 years. Unbeleivable – but true! Much information is availabe about this when seeked out amidst all the other distracting turmoil in the world today.

    August 30, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  8. Howard LI

    America MUST STOP making excuses for war profiterring, bringing your style of freedom to Iraq for example would only destroy the country. America Has to STOP using news to spread propaganda.

    November 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  9. Daz

    Those interested in an unbiased study of Falun Gong should google "Falun Gong in the Media who can we believe by Heather Kavan". Falun Gong is playing western media and by extension their audience for fools.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  10. Kil-nam Roh

    Since I often travel to China and work with Falun Dafa members there, I can tell you honestly that they are the victims
    of the most severe and brutal persecution by the repressive Chinese government. Some of the messages which
    I have relayed to the outside world from my contacts in Beijing (I can't mention their names or where in Beijing I met them for security reasons) reveal the horrific tortures which the Chinese authorities subject them to on a regular basis.
    If I were not a US citizen, the Chinese regime would no doubt also torture me for my activities on behalf of the brave
    followers of Falun Dafa in China. Sitting here in Glendale, as a progressive Korean-American and social justice
    activist, it is hard to believe that any government on earch would be so evil as that of China. We must oppose them
    in any way possible. I have had the ability to do so in China itself, but even here in the US, you can do your part.
    From: Ken Roh

    February 16, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Reply
    • Mark D.

      Dear Ken,

      I think I heard you call in to C-SPAN and comment about the repression of Falun Gong a few weeks ago. Aren't you concerned that the Chinese govenment will harm you?

      February 16, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  11. Kil-nam Roh

    Thank you for your reply, Mr. Mark D. Yes, that was me who called in to C-SPAN recently to condemn the
    Chinese government. At this moment, I am in Asia (not China). I often pass through China spending a little
    time there. I have been away a few days, but I will return to California soon. I don't advertise exactly what
    I am doing in China with Falun Dafa, and anyway, I am an American, so they can't touch me! From: Ken

    February 16, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Reply
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