Persecution of Falun Gong

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The persecution of Falun Gong refers to the campaign initiated by the Chinese Communist Party against practitioners of Falun Gong since July 1999, aimed at eliminating the practice in the People's Republic of China. According to Amnesty International, it includes a multifaceted propaganda campaign,[1] a program of enforced ideological conversion and re-education, and a variety of extralegal coercive measures such as arbitrary arrests, forced labor, and physical torture sometimes resulting in death.[2]

Falun Gong is a qigong discipline combining slow-moving exercises and meditation with a moral philosophy centered on the tenets of truth (or truthfulness), compassion and tolerance. It was founded by Li Hongzhi, who introduced it to the public in May 1992 in Changchun, Jilin.[3] Following a period of meteoric growth in the 1990s, the Communist Party launched a campaign to "eradicate" Falun Gong on 20 July 1999.[4]

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

Foreign observers estimate that since 1999, 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.[11][12] Former prisoners, many of whom are not themselves Falun Gong adherents, 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.[13][14] At least 2,000 Falun Gong adherents have been tortured to death in the persecution campaign,[15] with some observers putting the number much higher.[16]

Since 2006 there have also been persistent, but as-yet unproven allegations that the vital organs of non-consenting Falun Gong practitioners have been used to supply China's organ tourism industry.[17][18] The United Nations Committee on Torture called for China to schedule an independent investigation into the allegations.[19][20]


Practitioners of Falun Gong protest peacefully outside the Zhongnanhai compound

Falun Gong emerged in 1992, toward the end of China’s "qigong boom", a period which saw the proliferation of thousands of varieties of slow-moving, meditating exercises believed to affect health and well being. First taught by Li Hongzhi in Changchun, Jilin province,[21] Falun Gong differentiated itself from other qigong schools in its revival of spiritual and religious elements drawing on Buddhist and Daoist concepts.

Official registration issues[edit]

In 1993, Falun Gong was accepted into the state-run China Qigong Research Association (CQRS) and became an "instant star" of the qigong movement, enjoying considerable official support.[22] By 1996, however, the relationship between Falun Gong and the CQRS had become strained. Palmer noted that Li objected to the new policy of the CQRS to formalise the structure of Falun Gong, and also objected to the requirement to start up a Communist Party branch.[23] In March 1996 Falun Gong filed to withdraw from the CQRS, with Li explaining that he believed the CQRS seemed more interested in making money from qigong than conducting research.[24] Falun Gong subsequently attempted to register with other government bodies including the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Minority Nationalities' Affairs Commission, the Chinese Buddhist Association and the United Front Department, but was rebuffed. In 1997, Falun Gong informed the Civil Administration and Public Security ministries that it had not succeeded in applying for recognition.[25]

Initial restrictions and criticism[edit]

In July 1996, possibly in response to its withdrawal from the state-run Qigong Association and possibly as part of a broader government backlash against qigong practices, Falun Gong’s books were banned from further publication.[26] The group also became a target of media criticism in the state-run press.[26] Falun Gong adherents typically responded to what they perceived as unfair media treatment by picketing editorial offices to request retractions of critical stories. According to David Ownby, approximately 300 such demonstrations occurred between 1996 and 1999, and many, if not most, were successful.[27]

Protests in Tianjin and Zhongnanhai[edit]

By the late 1990s, the relationship between Falun Gong and the Chinese state was growing increasingly tense. In 1999 official estimates put the number of Falun Gong adherents at approximately 70 million, making it arguably the largest independent civil society group in the history of the PRC.[28]

In April 1999 He Zuoxiu, a longtime critic of qigong practices, published an editorial in Tianjin Normal University's Youth Reader magazine. Elaborating on what he had said months earlier on Beijing Television, he again launched into attacks on qigong groups—and Falun Gong in particular—as superstitious and potentially dangerous.[29] Falun Gong practitioners claimed the cases he cited as evidence of the dangers of Falun Gong erroneous[30] or otherwise "highly offensive."[31]

His article catalyzed a "dramatic public struggle" between Falun Gong practitioners and Chinese authorities over the legitimacy of Falun Gong as an acceptable qi gong practice. Because Falun Gong practitioners had no access to mass media, they resorted to other symbolic forms to appeal to officials and the public: peaceful protests.[32]

After the article was published practitioners gathered to protest in meditation posture outside the editorial office of the publication in Tianjin,[31] and sent petitions and appeals to the Tianjin party headquarters and municipal government to retract He's piece. Three hundred riot police were sent to disperse the crowd. Some of the practitioners were beaten, and forty-five arrested.[33][34] The practitioners were told the police action had been carried out on orders from the Ministry of Public Security,[35] and that those arrested could be released only with the approval of Beijing authorities.[34][36][37]

On 25 April ten to twenty thousand Falun Gong practitioners lined the streets near Zhongnanhai, the residence compound of China's leaders, in peaceful and silent protest 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 of the country by going to them and, "albeit very quietly and politely, making it clear that they would not be treated so shabbily."[38] Many Falun Gong practitioners were party members who openly lobbied for the group. No other disenfranchised group has ever staged a mass protest near the Zhongnanhai compound in PRC history. 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 their demonstration had been a success.[39]

Statewide suppression[edit]

On the night of 25 April 1999, then-Communist Party chairman Jiang Zemin issued a letter indicating his desire to see Falun Gong defeated. The letter expressed alarm at Falun Gong’s popularity, and in particular, its popularity among Communist Party members. In early May, reports were circulating that Jiang Zemin was establishing a high-level task force to deal with the threat, with Luo Gan in charge.[4] Authorities started rounding up known Falun Gong organizers. According to the BBC, Falun Gong mobilised "tens of thousands of followers in some 30 cities" in mid June after the arrests.[40]

On 20 July 1999, public security officers throughout China quietly detained numerous Falun Gong leaders just after midnight, from hundreds of homes, and hauling them to prison.[41] Falun Gong's four Beijing "arch-leaders" were arrested, and quickly tried.[42] The Public Security Bureau ordered churches, temples, mosques, newspapers, media, courts and police to suppress Falun Gong.[6] Three days of massive demonstrations by practitioners in some thirty cities followed. In Beijing and other cities, protesters were detained in sports stadium.[41] The government’s strongest discursive attack on the Falun Gong up to this point occurred on 20 June, when the People’s Daily published a long article urging people to give up Falun Gong practice. On this same day the official media published several editorial directed toward Communist Party members who practiced Falun Gong, strongly reminding them that as Party members they were atheists and must not allow themselves to "become superstitious by continuing to practice Falun Gong." If they did not give up Falun Gong beliefs, they would be forced out of the Party.

The government spread wrong information about the practice of Falun Gong- telling people that Falun Gong made people sick or insane in order to persuade citizens not to take up the practice.[43] On 22 July 1999, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a statement declaring the Falun Dafa Research Society to be an illegal organization on the grounds that it had not been properly registered. The Ministry of Public Security simultaneously issued a notice forbidding the practice of Falun Gong, the possession of Falun Gong books, and protests appealing the ban.[44]

‘'Xinhua said that Falun Gong was opposed to the Party, that it "preaches idealism, theism and feudal superstition, and that it was disturbing social stability.[45] Xinhua asserted that the actions taken against Falun Gong were essential to maintaining the "vanguard role and purity" of the Communist Party, and that "In fact, the so-called `truth, kindness and forbearance' principle preached by Li has nothing in common with the socialist ethical and cultural progress we are striving to achieve."[46]

At a news conference on 4 November 1999, Ye Xiaowen, Director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs of the State Council (government), said that "Falun Gong had brainwashed and bilked followers, caused more than 1,400 deaths, and threatened both social and political stability". Further emphasizing that Falun Gong was a political threat, he added: "any threat to the people and to society is a threat to the Communist Party and the government".[43] The government also publicized statements from people identified as former Falun Gong practitioners who denounce the Falun Gong movement and its leader, speak of the damage that the movement has brought to Chinese society, and praise the government for its firm action against the movement. The authenticity of such denunciations cannot be verified, These denunciations are encouraged by the authorities with promises that those who leave the "heretical organization" and perform meritorious service will not be punished.[47]

As part of the anti-Falun propaganda, local government authorities have also been carrying out "study and education" programmes throughout China, in the form of reading newspapers and listening to radio programmes, as well as having office cadres visit villagers and farmers at home to explain "in simple terms the harm of Falun Gong to them".[47]

Li Hongzhi responded with a "Brief Statement of Mine" on 22 July:

We are not against the government now, nor will we be in the future. Other people may treat us badly, but we do not treat others badly, nor do we treat people as enemies.

We are calling for all governments, international organizations, and people of goodwill worldwide to extend their support and assistance to us in order to resolve the present crisis that is taking place in China.[48]


Foreign observers have attempted to explain the Party’s rationale for banning Falun Gong as stemming from a variety of factors. These include Falun Gong’s popularity, its independence from the state and refusal to toe the Party line, internal power politics within the Communist Party, and Falun Gong’s moral and spiritual content, which put it at odds with the officially Marxist–Leninist atheist ideology.

A World Journal report suggested that certain high-level Party officials wanted to crack down on the practice for years, but lacked sufficient pretext until the protest at Zhongnanhai, which they claim was partly orchestrated by Luo Gan, a long-time opponent of Falun Gong.[49] There were also reportedly rifts in the Politburo at the time of the incident. Willy Wo-Lap Lam writes that Jiang’s campaign against Falun Gong may have been used to promote allegiance to himself; Lam quotes one party veteran as saying "by unleashing a Mao-style movement [against Falun Gong], Jiang is forcing senior cadres to pledge allegiance to his line."[50] Some reports indicate that Premier Zhu Rongji met with Falun Gong representatives and gave them satisfactory answers, but was criticized by General Secretary and President Jiang Zemin for being "too soft."[33] Jiang is held by Falun Gong to be personally responsible for the final decision:[51][52] 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.”[53] Peerman cited reasons such as suspected personal jealousy of Li Hongzhi;[51] Saich postulates at party leaders' anger at Falun Gong's widespread appeal, and ideological struggle.[52] The Washington Post reported that members of the Politburo Standing Committee did not unanimously support the crackdown, and that "Jiang Zemin alone decided that Falun Gong must be eliminated."[54] The size and reach of Jiang's anti-Falun Gong campaign surpassed that of many previous mass-movements.[55]

Human Rights Watch notes that the crackdown on Falun Gong reflects historical efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to eradicate religion, which the government believed was inherently subversive.[56] Some journalists believe that Beijing's reaction exposes its authoritarian nature and its intolerance for competing loyalty. The Globe and Mail wrote : "...any group that does not come under the control of the Party is a threat"; secondly, the 1989 protests may have heightened the leaders' sense of losing their grip on power, making them live in "mortal fear" of popular demonstrations.[57][58] Craig Smith of the Wall Street Journal suggests that the government which has by definition no view of spirituality, lacks moral credibility with which to fight an expressly spiritual foe; the party feels increasingly threatened by any belief system that challenges its ideology and has an ability to organize itself.[59] That Falun Gong, whose belief system represented a revival of traditional Chinese religion, was being practiced by a large number of Communist Party members and members of the military was seen as particularly disturbing to Jiang Zemin. "Jiang accepts the threat of Falun Gong as an ideological one: spiritual beliefs against militant atheism and historical materialism. He [wished] to purge the government and the military of such beliefs".[60]

Legal and political mechanisms[edit]

On 10 June 1999 the Party established the '6-10 Office', an extra-constitutional body to lead the suppression of Falun Gong.[5] Representatives were selected in every province, city, county, university, government department and state-owned business in China.[61]

On 22 July, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security dissolved the Falun Dafa Research Society, banned "the propagation of Falun Gong in any form," and prohibited anyone from disrupting social order or confronting the government.[41] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty stated that the official directives and legal documents issued for the purge fall short of international legal standards and China’s own constitution.[4][8] Falun Gong sources have further also sought to argue that the Ministry of Public Security does not have the authority under the Chinese constitution to create laws, and that its ban against Falun Gong was itself therefore illegal.[62]

On 26 July, several state bureaus and the Ministry of Public Security jointly issued a circular calling for confiscation and destruction of all publications related to Falun Gong;[63] it was condemned in the media, with books shredded, burned and videotapes bulldozed for TV cameras.[7][41]

On 29 July 1999, the Beijing Judicial Bureau issued a notice forbidding lawyers from accepting Falun Gong clients.[64] Weiquan Lawyers who have attempted to take Falun Gong clients have faced varying degrees of persecution themselves, including disbarment, detention, and in the case of Gao Zhisheng, torture and disappearance.[65][66]

The government enacted a statute (article 300 of the Criminal Law), passed by the National People’s Congress on 30 October 1999, with retrospective application to suppress "heterodox religions" across China,[67] thus legitimising the persecution of Falun Gong and any other spiritual groups deemed "dangerous to the state."[7]

In response to the suppression, from late 1999 into early 2001, Falun Gong adherents traveled daily to Tiananmen Square by the hundreds, where they practiced meditation in silent protest or unfurled banners requesting the rehabilitation of the group and an end to the ban. These protests were quickly and sometimes violently broken up by waiting security agents, and the practitioners involved were typically sent to their home cities to be punished. By 25 April 2000, a total of more than 30,000 practitioners had been arrested on Tiananmen Square.[68] Seven hundred Falun Gong followers were arrested during a demonstration in the Square on 1 January 2001.[69] Officials grew impatient with the constant flow of protesters into Beijing,[6] and decided to implement a cascading responsibility system to push the responsibility for meeting central orders down onto those enforcing them: central authorities would hold local officials personally responsible for stemming the flow of protesters.[70] The provincial government would fine mayors for each Falun Gong practitioner from their district who made it to Beijing; the mayors would in turn fine the heads of the Political and Legal commissions, who would in turn fine village chiefs, who fined police officers who administered the punishment. According to Johnson, police in turn extorted money illegally from Falun Gong practitioners, and the order was only relayed orally at meetings, "because they didn't want it made public." A chief feature in the testimony of Falun Gong torture victims was that they were "constantly being asked for money to compensate for the fines."[6]

Human Rights Watch reported that some work units would summarily fire people identified as practitioners, meaning they would lose housing, schooling, pensions, and be reported to the police.[71] Local officials would detain active practitioners and those unwilling to recant, and were expected to "make certain" that families and employers keep them isolated.[72]

Media campaign[edit]

The poster reads "Firmly support the decision of the Central Committee to deal with the illegal organization of 'Falun Gong'"

Since the organization's ban by the government of China on 22 July 1999,[73] the state-controlled media declared Falun Gong to be an "evil cult"[74] that spreads superstition.

By 30 July, ten days into the campaign, Xinhua reported confiscations of over one million Falun Gong books and other materials, hundreds of thousands burned and destroyed.[73]

At the early stages of the crackdown, the evening news would broadcast images of huge piles of Falun Gong materials being crushed or incinerated. Perry writes that the basic pattern of the offensive was similar to "the anti-rightist campaign of the 1950s [and] the anti-spiritual pollution campaigns of the 1980s." The media would focus on those who had kicked the Falun Gong habit; relatives of Falun Gong victims would talk about the tragedies that had befallen their loved ones; former practitioners would confess being "hoodwinked by Li Hongzhi and... expressing regret at their gullibility"; physical education instructors suggested healthy alternatives to Falun Gong practice, like ten-pin bowling.[75]

According to CNN's Willy Lam, state media stated that Falun Gong was part of an "anti-China international movement".[55] As it did during the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party organised rallies in the streets and stop-work meetings in remote western provinces by government agencies such as the weather bureau to denounce the practice. Xinhua published editorials on PLA officers declaring Falun Gong "an effort by hostile Western forces to subvert China," and vowing to do their utmost to defend the central leadership and "maintain national security and social stability."[55]

Circulars were issued to women's and youth organisations encouraging support for the ban. Both the Youth League and the All-China Women's Federation called for greater use of science education to combat "feudalistic superstition." Xinhua reported speeches of Youth League officials. One speaker said "This reminds us of the importance and urgency of strengthening our political and ideological work among the younger generation, educating them with Marxist materialism and atheism, and making greater efforts to popularize scientific knowledge".[76] The Women's Federation stated the need to "arm our sisters with scientific knowledge and help improve their capability to recognize and resist feudal superstition"[76] A group of PLA veterans who had joined in the 1930s and 1940s issued a statement that "Only Marxism can save China and only the Chinese Communist Party can lead us to accomplish the great cause of reinvigorating the Chinese nation."[77]

Li was also a target for Chinese media during this time. The Chinese authorities charged that he had created Falun Gong on the basis of two other Qigong systems developed earlier, namely, Chanmi Gong and Jiugong Bagua Gong, and that some of Falun Gong's exercises were copied from "movements from Thai dance that he picked up during a visit to relatives in Thailand."[78] Chinese authorities asserted that acquaintances Li Jingchao and Liu Yuqing helped to develop the system, and other earlier followers helped write texts and touch up photographs; it was not tested exhaustively beforehand, but was completed only one month before its official launch, they alleged.[79] James Tong notes that these allegations were brought forth in the publication "Li Hongzhi qiren qishi", some already in print before 22 July 1999, that conformed to the guidelines of the suppression of Falun Gong as specified by the Politburo and Jiang Zemin. Many were hastily compiled reprints or re-writes of Renmin Ribao articles and Xinhua dispatches on exposes of Falun Gong and Li Hongzhi, and party and government documents banning the Falun Gong.[80] Qiren qishi was itself produced by the research arm of the Public Security Bureau.[78]

Use of the cult label[edit]

The government re-used many of the arguments which had been advanced by critics of the movement prior to the ban, including allegations that Falun Gong was "propagating feudal superstition", that Li had changed his birthdate, and that the practice exploited spiritual cultivation to engage in seditious politics. In exposés such as "Falun Gong is a Cult",[81] "Exposing the Lies of the 'Falun Gong' Cult", and "Cult of Evil", they alleged that Falun Gong engaged in mind control and manipulation via "lies and fallacies," causing "needless deaths of large numbers of practitioners." State media seized upon Li's writing in which he expressed that illnesses are caused by karma, and that Li has stated on several occasions that the sign of a true practitioner is to refuse medicine or medical care.[82] The authorities claimed over 1,000 deaths because practitioners followed Li's teachings and refused to seek medical treatment, that several hundred practitioners had cut their stomachs open "looking for the Dharma Wheel" or committed suicide, and that over 30 innocent people had been killed by "mentally deranged practitioners of Falun Gong."[83] Li was portrayed as a charlatan, while snapshots of accounting records were shown on television, "purporting to prove that [he] made huge amounts of money off his books and videos."[6]

Ching (2001) states that "evil cult" was defined by an atheist government "on political premises, not by any religious authority", and was used by the authorities to make previous arrests and imprisonments constitutional.[60] Most social scientists and scholars of religion reject "brainwashing" theories and do not use the term "cult" to describe Falun Gong. Chan claims that Falun Gong is neither a cult nor a sect, but a New Religious Movement with cult-like characteristics.[84] Other scholars avoid the term "cult" altogether because "of the confusion between the historic meaning of the term and current pejorative use"[85][86] These scholars prefer terms like "spiritual movement" or "new religious movement" to avoid the negative connotations of "cult" or to avoid mis-categorizing Falun Gong as a "cult" if it does not fit mainstream definitions.[87] Nevertheless, many scholars, including notably Palmer (2007) and Ownby (2008), use the words "moralistic" and "apocalyptic" to describe its philosophy.[88]

In 2005, the Hate Crimes Unit of the Edmonton Police Service confiscated anti-Falun Gong materials distributed at the annual conference of the American Family Foundation by staff members of the Calgary Chinese Consulate (Province of Alberta, Canada). The materials, including the calling of Falun Gong a "cult," were identified as having breached the Criminal Code, which bans the wilful promotion of hatred against identifiable religious groups.[89]

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission in 2006 took issue with anti-Falun Gong broadcasts from Chinese Central Television (CCTV). "The Commission considers that these comments are clearly abusive, in that they are expressions of extreme ill will against Falun Gong and its founder, Li Hongzhi. The derision, hostility and abuse encouraged by such comments could expose the targeted group or individual to hatred or contempt and, in the case of the first comment, the statement could incite violence and threaten the physical security of Falun Gong practitioners."[90]

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found Falun Gong a "protected creed" under the Ontario Human Rights code. The Tribunal ruled that the "cult" word to describe Falun Gong practitioners constitutes discrimination. "The comment had the effect of demeaning the complainant and affronting her dignity on the basis of her creed. "[91]

Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident[edit]

On the eve of Chinese New Year on 23 January 2001, seven people attempted to set themselves ablaze at Tiananmen Square. The official Chinese press agency, Xinhua News Agency, and other state media asserted that the self-immolators were practitioners while the Falun Dafa Information Center disputed this,[92] on the grounds that the movement's teachings explicitly forbid suicide and killing,[93] and further alleged that "the incident itself never happened, and was a cruel (but clever) piece of stunt-work."[94] The incident received international news coverage, and video footage of the burnings were broadcast later inside China by China Central Television (CCTV). Images of a 12 year old girl, Liu Siying, burning and interviews with the other participants in which they stated their belief that self-immolation would lead them to paradise were shown.[92][95] Falun Gong-related commentators claimed that the main participants' account of the incident and other aspects of the participants' behaviour were inconsistent with the teachings of Falun Dafa, and some third-party commentators have also pointed out discrepancies in the government's version of events, and alleged that the incident was staged in order to turn public opinion against the practice[96] and build public support for its persecution.[97][98][99][100] Time reported that prior to the self-immolation incident, many Chinese had felt that Falun Gong posed no real threat, and that the state's crackdown had gone too far. After the event the media campaign against Falun Gong gained significant traction.[70]

Interference with foreign correspondents[edit]

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China have complained about their members being "followed, detained, interrogated and threatened" for reporting on the crackdown on Falun Gong. Many foreign journalists attending a news conference organised by practitioners which took place in Beijing on 28 October 1999, were accused by the Chinese authorities of "illegal reporting." Others have been punished for communicating with the foreign press or for organising the press conferences. Journalists from Reuters, the New York Times, the Associated Press and a number of other organisations were interrogated by police, forced to sign confessions, and had their work and residence papers temporarily confiscated.[2] Correspondents also complained that television satellite transmissions were interfered with while being routed through China Central Television. Amnesty International states that "a number of people have received prison sentences or long terms of administrative detention for speaking out about the repression or giving information over the Internet."[2]

The 2002 Reporters Without Borders' report on China states that photographers and cameramen working with foreign media were prevented from working in and around Tiananmen Square where hundreds of Falun Gong followers have demonstrated in recent years. It estimates that at least 50 representatives of the international press have been arrested since July 1999, and some of them were beaten by police; several Falun Gong followers have been imprisoned for talking with foreign journalists." Ian Johnson, The Wall Street Journal correspondent in Beijing, wrote a series of articles which won him the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. Johnson left Beijing after writing his articles, stating that "the Chinese police would have made my life in Beijing impossible" after he received the Pulitzer.[101]

Entire news organizations have not been immune to press restrictions concerning Falun Gong. In March 2001, Time Asia ran a story about Falun Gong in Hong Kong. The magazine was pulled from the shelves in Mainland China, and threatened that it would never again be sold in the country.[102] Partly as a result of the difficult reporting environment, by 2002, Western news coverage of the suppression within China had all but completely ceased, even as the number of Falun Gong deaths in custody was on the rise.[103]

Internet censorship[edit]

Freedom House reported that Falun Gong is among the most systematically-blocked topics on the Chinese Internet.[104] In his account of the genesis of China’s internet censorship and surveillance capabilities, Ethan Gutmann suggests that many of these methods — including denial of service attacks — were first employed by Chinese authorities against Falun Gong.[105] According to analyst James Mulvenon of the Rand Corporation, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security uses cyber-warfare to attack Falun Gong websites in the United States,[106] Australia, Canada and England, and blocks access to internet resources about the topic.[107][108] As reported by the BBC News, the Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC), a Falun Gong-linked group that promotes internet freedom said the US state department has offered it $1.5m, in a move condemned by Chinese officials. According to the report, China's Washington embassy said China was opposed to the US helping GIFC as it was run by Falun Gong. He said China's regulation of the internet was in line with its laws and those of many other countries, and was supported by the vast majority of its people.[109] The Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency quoted Philip Crowley, a state department spokesman, saying that the BBC news of the grant was "premature" and that they "have not finalised agreement on the funding and no final decisions have been made".[109] Falun Gong practitioners working with the Global Internet Freedom Consortium developed an anti-censorship tool called Freegate, which was designed to hide internet activity from the Chinese government. Another software named Tor, an anti-censorship program had been funded in part by the U.S. government.[110]

Reports of violence and abuse[edit]

Since 1999, foreign observers estimate that hundreds of thousands—and perhaps millions—of Falun Gong practitioners have been held extrajudicially in reeducation-through-labor camps, prisons, and detention centers.[11][111]

Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment[edit]

Recent estimates, such as those cited by the U.S. State Department, suggest that hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong adherents are detained extrajudicially in China, mostly in reeducation-through-labor camps.[12] According to a 2005 Human Rights Watch report, petitioners who were not themselves Falun Gong practitioners reported that most of the detainees in reeducation-through-labor camps were Falun Gong adherents. They also noted that Falun Gong practitioners received the "longest sentences and worst treatment" in the camps.[13]

According to the Ministry of Public Security, "re-education through labor" is an administrative measure imposed on those guilty of committing minor offences, but who are not legally considered criminals.[4] In late 2000, China began to use this method of punishment widely against Falun Gong practitioners in the hope of permanently "transforming recidivists."[4] Terms could also be arbitrarily extended by police. Practitioners may have ambiguous charges levied against them, according to Robert Bejesky, writing in the Columbia Journal of Asian Law, such as "disrupting social order," "endangering national security," or "subverting the socialist system."[112] Up to 99% of long term Falun Gong detainees are processed administratively through this system, and do not enter the formal criminal justice system.[112] Outside access is not given to the camps, prisoners are forced to do heavy work in mines, brick factories, and agriculture, and physical torture, beatings, interrogations, inadequate food rations, and other human rights abuses take place, according to Human Rights Watch.[4]

Upon completion of their reeducation sentences, practitioners are sometimes then incarcerated in "legal education centers," another form of punishment set up by provincial authorities to "transform the minds" of practitioners, according to Human Rights Watch.[4][113] While Beijing officials initially portrayed the process as "benign," a harder line was later adopted; "teams of education assistants and workers, leading cadres, and people from all walks of life" were drafted into the campaign. In early 2001 quotas were given for how many practitioners needed to be "transformed." Official records do not mention the methods employed to achieve this, though Falun Gong and third party accounts indicate that the mental and physical abuses could be "extraordinarily severe."[4]

Torture in custody[edit]

A 2001 article by John Pomfret and Philip P. Pan in the Washington Post said that no practitioner was to be spared coercive measures in an attempt to make them renounce their faith. According to their source in the security apparatus, the most active are sent directly to labor camps, "where they are first 'broken' by beatings and other torture."[114] They write that some local governments had tried brainwashing classes before, but only in January 2001 did the "secret 610 office, an interagency task force leading the charge against Falun Gong, order all neighborhood committees, state institutions and companies to start."[114]

The Falun Gong website Clearwisdom report numerous cases of extreme psychological and physical torture, accompanied by testimonies and details of identities of the victims, resulting in impaired mental, sensory, physiological and speech faculties, mental trauma, paralysis, or death. Over 100 forms of torture are purported to be used, including electric shocks,suspension by the arms, shackling in painful positions, sleep and food deprivation, force-feeding, and sexual abuse, with many variations on each type.[115][116] Reportedly, more than 250,000 people in China, being detained in 'Re-education through Labour' camps, on vaguely defined charges, have never seen a lawyer, never been to a court, and are detained with no form of judicial supervision. It is unknown how many Falun Gong members are detained in these camps.[116]

Since 2000, the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations highlighted 314 cases of torture, representing more than 1,160 individuals, to the Government of China. Falun Gong comprise 66% of all such reported torture cases, 8% occurring within Ankangs.[117][118] The Special Rapporteur refers to the torture allegations as "harrowing" and asks the Chinese government to "take immediate steps to protect the lives and integrity of its detainees in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners"[119] Corinna-Barbara Francis of Amnesty says Falun Gong's (death toll) figures seem a little high because they are not the result of formal executions.[107]

Organ harvesting[edit]

In March 2006 the Falun Gong-affiliated Epoch Times published a number of articles alleging that China was conducting widespread and systematic organ harvesting of living Falun Gong practitioners.[120] The website alleged that practitioners detained in labour camps, hospital basements, or prisons, were being blood- and urine-tested, their information stored on computer databases, and then matched with organ recipients.[121] Within one month, third party investigators including representatives of the US Department of State, said that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegation.[67] There is, however, a widely documented practice of the buying and selling of organs of death penalty prisoners in China. The lack of transparency surrounding such practices makes it impossible to determine whether written consent was obtained. It is unknown how many Falun Gong practitioners are being executed by the Chinese authorities. While Chinese authorities conceal national statistics on the death penalty as a state secret, various sources indicate China may be executing between 10,000 -15,000 people a year.[116] Former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour and human rights lawyer David Matas were commissioned by Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong to investigate the allegations. In July 2006, they published "Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China",[122] which concluded that large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners were victims of systematic organ harvesting throughout China, whilst still alive.[123]

In August 2006, a Congressional Research Service report said that some of the key allegations of the Kilgour-Matas report appeared to be inconsistent with the findings of other investigations.[67] In November 2008 the United Nations Committee Against Torture called for the Chinese state to immediately conduct or commission an independent investigation of the claims of organ harvesting, and take measures to ensure that those responsible for any such abuses are prosecuted and punished.[124]

Psychiatric abuse[edit]

Falun Gong and human rights observers began reporting widespread psychiatric abuse of mentally-healthy practitioners since 1999. Falun Gong says that thousands have been forcefully detained in mental hospitals and subject to psychiatric abuses such as injection of sedatives or anti-psychotic drugs, torture by electrocution, force-feeding, beatings and starvation.[125] It also alleges that practitioners are involuntarily admitted because they practice Falun Gong exercises, for passing out flyers, refusing to sign a pledge to renounce Falun Gong, writing petition letters, appealing to the government etc. Others are admitted because detention sentences have expired or the detainees have not been successfully "transformed" in the brainwashing classes. Some have been told that they were admitted because they had a so-called "political problem"—that is, because they appealed to the government to lift the ban of Falun Gong.[126]

Robin Munro, former Director of the Hong Kong Office of Human Rights Watch and now Deputy Director with China Labour Bulletin, drew worldwide attention to the abuses of forensic psychiatry in China in general, and of Falun Gong practitioners in particular.[126] In 2001, Munro alleged that forensic psychiatrists in China have been active since the days of Mao Zedong, and have been involved in the systematic misuse of psychiatry for political purposes.[127][128] He says that large-scale psychiatric abuses are the most distinctive aspect of the government’s protracted campaign to "crush the Falun Gong."[129] Munro notes a very sizeable increase in Falun Gong admissions to mental hospitals since the onset of the government's persecution campaign.[130] However, Stone said that Munro's allegations were constructed from "his layman's reading and tendentious extrapolations of Chinese psychiatric publications".[131]

Munro claimed that detained Falun Gong practitioners are tortured and subject to electroconvulsive therapy, painful forms of electrical acupuncture treatment, prolonged deprivation of light, food and water, and restricted access to toilet facilities in order to force "confessions" or "renunciations" as a condition of release. Fines of several thousand yuan may follow.[130] Lu and Galli write that dosages of medication up to five or six times the usual level are administered through nasogastric tubes as a form of torture or punishment, and that physical torture is common, including binding tightly with ropes in very painful positions. This treatment may result in chemical toxicity, migraines, extreme weakness, protrusion of the tongue, rigidity, loss of consciousness, vomiting, nausea, seizures and loss of memory.[126]

Stone[132] said that the pattern of hospitalisation varied from province to province, and did not suggest any uniform government policy was in force. After having been given access to and examining several hundred cases of specific Falun Gong practitioners in named psychiatric hospitals, the medical personnel, "a significant number of the reported cases... had been sent on from labor camps where they... may well have been tortured and then dumped in psychiatric hospitals as an expedient disposition.[131]


The Falun Dafa Information Center reports that over 3,400 Falun Gong adherents have been killed as a result of torture and abuse in custody, typically after they refused to recant their belief in the practice, though these numbers are impossible to independently corroborate. The preponderance of reported deaths occur in China’s Northeastern provinces, Sichuan Province, and areas surrounding Beijing.[133]

Among the first torture deaths reported in the Western press was that of Chen Zixiu, a retired factory worker from Shandong Province. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning article on the suppression of Falun Gong, Ian Johnson reported that labor camp guards shocked her with cattle prods in an attempt to force her to renounce Falun Gong. When she refused, officials "ordered Ms. Chen to run barefoot in the snow. Two days of torture had left her legs bruised and her short black hair matted with pus and blood...She crawled outside, vomited, and collapse. She never regained consciousness." Chen died on 21 February 2000.[134]

On 16 June 2005, 37-year-old Gao Rongrong, an accountant from Liaoning Province, was tortured to death in custody. Two years before her death, Ms. Gao had been imprisoned at the Longshan forced labor camp, where she was tortured and badly disfigured with electric shock batons. Gao escaped the labor camp by jumping from a second-floor window, and after pictures of her burned visage were made public, she became a target for recapture by authorities. She was taken back into custody on 6 March 2005, and killed just over three months later.[135]

On 26 January 2008, security agents in Beijing stopped popular folk musician Yu Zhou and his wife Xu Na while on their way home from a concert. The 42-year-old Yu Zhou was taken into custody, where authorities attempted to force him to renounce Falun Gong. He was tortured to death within 11 days.[136]

Societal discrimination[edit]

Academic restrictions[edit]

According to Falun Gong lobby group World Organization for the Investigation Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG), examinations contained questions with anti-Falun Gong content, and incorrect answers had serious repercussions.[137] WOIPFG claimed that students who practiced Falun Gong were barred from schools and universities and from sitting exams, and that "guilt by association" was assumed: family members of known practitioners were also denied entry.[138] There were anti-Falun Gong petitions.[4]

Outside China[edit]

In 2004 the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a resolution condemning the CCP’s attacks on Falun Gong practitioners in the United States; it reported that Party affiliates have "pressured local elected officials in the United States to refuse or withdraw support for the Falun Gong spiritual group," that Falun Gong spokespeoples’ houses have been broken into, and individuals engaged in peaceful protest actions outside embassies have been physically assaulted. It called on the Chinese government to "immediately stop interfering in the exercise of religious and political freedoms within the United States."[139]

Recent campaigns[edit]

Although not as high-profile as it once was, the suppression of Falun Gong in China has continued largely unabated in recent years, with new strike-hard campaigns launched periodically against the group, particularly around sensitive events and anniversaries.


The Congressional-Executive Commission on China reported that "the central government intensified its nine-year campaign of persecution against Falun Gong practitioners in the months leading up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games." The 6–10 Office issued an internal directive mandating that local governments take steps to prevent Falun Gong from ‘‘interfering with or harming’’ the Games. Public Security Bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai issued directives providing rewards for informants who report Falun Gong activities to the police.[140]

In the months leading up to the Olympics, the Falun Dafa Information Center reported that over 8,000 Falun Gong adherents were abducted from homes and workplaces by security agents.[141] The Center reported that many of these practitioners were later sentenced to lengthy prison terms—some in excess of 15 years—and that several were tortured to death in custody. Amnesty International observed that Falun Gong was among the groups most harshly persecuted in 2008, and reported that during the year over 100 Falun Gong practitioners died as a result of torture and ill-treatment in custody.[142]


In 2009, Falun Gong practitioners were among those targeted as part of an initiative dubbed the 6521 Project, a campaign headed by Xi Jinping intended to crack down on potential dissidents during politically sensitive anniversaries. The project's name refers to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, and the 10th anniversary of the suppression of Falun Gong.[143][144]

In parallel to the 6521 Project, a top-level coordinating body was created under the direction of Zhou Yongkang, called the "Central Committee for Comprehensive Management of Social Order." Falun Gong was among the groups targeted for increased monitoring and suppression. The Committee revived a network of volunteer informants in schools and neighborhoods, and established a joint responsibility system that holds heads of households, work units, and local governments accountable in the event of protests or other destabilizing events.[145]


Human Rights groups have charged that the 2010 World Expo served as pretext for the suppression of dissidents and religious believers, including Falun Gong adherents. The Congressional Executive Commission on China reported that Chinese authorities seized upon the Expo as an opportunity to conduct propaganda campaigns deriding Falun Gong, and detained and imprisoned over 100 Shanghai practitioners. Shanghai authorities offered monetary incentives to citizens who reported on Falun Gong adherents. The Commission also noted that some who refused to disavow Falun Gong were subjected to torture and sent to reeducation through labor facilities.[146] Amnesty International issued an urgent action notice in connection with the disappearance of Shanghai practitioner Jiang Feng, who was reportedly abducted at the Shanghai airport on 18 February 2010 while en route to the United States. Jiang disappeared into police custody, and was said to be at risk of torture.[147]

2010 - 2012[edit]

In 2010, the Communist Party launched a 3-year campaign that requires local governments, Party organizations, and businesses to step up efforts to "transform" large portions of known Falun Gong adherents. "Transformation" refers to the often coercive process of pressuring Falun Gong adherents to renounce the practice. Several documents posted on Party and local government websites refer to concrete transformation targets to be achieved, and also set limits on acceptable rates of recidivism. The campaign is carried out through enlisting known Falun Gong adherents in mandatory reeducation classes, or sentencing in prisons or reeducation-through-labor camps.[148]

Practitioners Guo Xiaojun, Wang Xiaodong, and Wang Junling were arrested and imprisoned for their involvement with Falun Gong and named prisoners of conscience at risk of torture by Amnesty International.[149][150]

International response[edit]

Falun Gong's ordeal has attracted a large amount of international attention from governments and non-government organizations. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, have raised acute concerns over reports of torture and ill-treatment of practitioners in China and have also urged the UN and international governments to intervene to bring an end to the persecution.[2][151]

The United States Congress has passed six resolutions - House Concurrent Resolution 304, House Resolution 530,House Concurrent Resolution 188, House Concurrent Resolution 218, - calling for an immediate end to the campaign against Falun Gong practitioners both in China and abroad. The first, Concurrent Resolution 217, was passed in November 1999.[152] The latest, Resolution 605, was passed on 17 March 2010, and called for "an immediate end to the campaign to persecute, intimidate, imprison, and torture Falun Gong practitioners."[153] At a rally on 12 July 2012, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called on the Obama Administration to confront the Chinese leadership on its terrible human rights record, including its oppression of Falun Gong practitioners.[154] "It is essential that friends and supporters of democracy and human rights continue to show their solidarity and support, by speaking out against these abuses", she said.[154]

Response from Falun Gong[edit]

Falun Gong practitioners enact torture scenes in New York City

The Falun Gong have responded to all of this with markedly peaceful means. Throughout thirteen years of persecution, they have refused to adopt violence. Instead, adherents first tried to reason with Communist Party rulers through letters and petitions.[155] Falun Gong practitioners and supporters report torture and ill-treatment of practitioners in mainland China.[156][157] After 1999 practitioners also began holding frequent protests, rallies, and appeals outside The People's Republic. Some Falun Gong support groups and activists outside of China published "Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party", and initiated a worldwide "Three Renunciations" Campaign. The video "False Fire: Self-Immolation or Deception?", was broadcast on Chinese television by hackers.[158][159] Liu Chengjun, named as the instigator of the television hacking, was sentenced to 19 years in prison. The Falun Gong website stated that he died after 21 months in Jilin Prison, on 26 December 2003.[160]

Further reading[edit]


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  3. ^ "A Chronicle of Major Historic Events during the Introduction of Falun Dafa to the Public". Retrieved 31 October 2009. 
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  6. ^ a b c d e Johnson, Ian, Wild Grass: three portraits of change in modern china, Vintage (8 March 2005)
  7. ^ a b c Leung, Beatrice (2002) 'China and Falun Gong: Party and society relations in the modern era', Journal of Contemporary China, 11:33, 761 – 784
  8. ^ a b (23 March 2000) The crackdown on Falun Gong and other so-called heretical organizations, Amnesty International
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  12. ^ a b U.S. Department of State, 2009 Country Report on Human Rights: China (includes Hong Kong and Macao)
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  15. ^ Andrew Jacobs. 'China Still Presses Crusade Against Falun Gong', New York Times, 27 April 2009.
  16. ^ Gutmann, Ethan. "How Many Harvested?", Remarks on the 10-year anniversary of the Falun Gong persecution, chaired by Edward McMillan-Scott, Foreign Press Association, London. Retrieved 2 December 2010
  17. ^ Revised Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China by David Matas, Esq. and Hon. David Kilgour, Esq.
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  158. ^ Yuezhi Zhao, "Falun Gong, Identity, and the Struggle over Meaning Inside and Outside China", in Contesting Media Power, 2004
  159. ^ Details on How Liu Chengjun, Who Tapped Into the Changchun Cable Television, Was Tortured to Death in Jilin Prison,, 20 January 2004
  160. ^ Falun Gong hacker 'died in jail', BBC News, 30 December 2003

External links[edit]