Chinese State atrocities on its religious minorities are not new, and are only growing every year. From banning and modifying Quran to the suppression of peaceful Tibetan Buddhists, Beijing’s fear of its religious and ethnic minorities has obsessed her. And this time, it is the Falun Gong practitioners, who have paid the price for the CCP’s insecurities.
As per a recent report published on January 9 by Minghui, at least 209 Falun Gong Practitioners have been killed by the ruling CCP until 2023. Among them, 114 deaths were reported in 2023 alone, while 88 cases were reported in between 2002 and 2022. In 2022, at least 49 practitioners lost their lives inside China just because of their faith. Notably, among those who were killed, some were as young as 25-30 years in age.
Once widely celebrated and supported by the CCP throughout the 1990s, Falun Gong, officially called Falun Dafa, had millions of followers across China. Growing stature and influence of Li Hongzhi, founder of the sect, and his popularity among the common civilians, was seen as a threat by the then Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, who launched a violent campaign against its members. Since then, thousands of practitioners either have been killed or put in jails.
Another report published in Minghui on January 17, highlighted that around 6,514 Falun Dafa practitioners were either arrested or harassed. What is noticeable is that among 3,629 newly reported arrest cases in between 2021 to 2023, 3,457 people(95%) were arrested in the year 2023 alone. The same pattern was also evident in the number of deaths reported in 2023. Most of the incidents of harassment and arrests occurred in Shandong (1,061), Jilin (914), Hebei (673), Sichuan (576) and Heilongjiang (546). As high as, 1,190 practitioners were sentenced to prison with varying terms from 3 months to 12 years. Out of these newly reported cases, 755 practitioners were sentenced in 2023 alone.
This unprecedented scale of crackdown on Falun Dafa practitioners in 2023 raises suspicion on the motives of Chinese State. Many analysts believe that growing influence of Falun Dafa inside the political circles of China and CCP could be the reason behind these fresh crackdowns. Many of elites and CCP members have been practicing Falun values secretly and their stature inside the political corridors has risen to such an extent that it has raised alarms for the CCP.
While CCP’s lack of confidence in Uyghurs and Tibetans could be understood by the fact that both groups want self-rule or partial-autonomy, however, its actions against Falun Dafa is hard to digest as it has no such demands. Beijing fears about the uncontrolled growth of Falun practitioners inside the Party itself. When Jiang tried to eliminate Falun practitioners in 1990s, it was his sole decision and most of the Politburo members were against it as wives and elders of the elite party members themselves were practicing the beliefs of Falun Dafa. This practice remains today as well.
Second, by these purges, Xi is trying to caution senior cadres not to act against him. Owing to Xi’s anti-corruption policies to sideline his rivals, he has been criticized both inside the Party and Military. Many blocks have been created and are working against him. There were reports that Xi was rebuked by elder party leaders and that’s why he was barred to attend New Delhi’s G20 meet. Alike what Mao and Jiang did, Xi is also unleashing the great war against religion, especially Falun Gong, whose majority members are of Han ethnicity, in order to target his rivals within the Party. Like the anti-corruption initiative, it will give power to Xi to make those disappear whom Xi considers a threat.
Third, the year 2023 saw an increase in the number of protests across China on several counts. Number of protests spiked following October 2022, and tens of protests happened in various major cities. Several analysts believe that many of the front line protesters were later on accused of being part of FalunDafa and were persecuted. It had been used by Beijing, time and again, as a tool to punish any petitioner, activist or pro-democracy person by just falsely accusing them of having association with the Falun Gong.
Fourth, it’s a fight for legitimacy and ideology. CCP does not want to share the ultimate position in which even God and religion are considered below the Party. It’s a modern form of Confucianism, where the King is supreme. Falun Gong’s following was not limited to the Party members, but it had also infiltrated well enough inside the military as well. And that’s what Beijing fears the most.
The issue of religion has always been a great challenge for the communist countries like China. It is a banner under which many revolutions have happened in the past. Some believe that Falun Dafa is even challenging the sense of Chinese nationalism. Xi simply doesn’t want to give even a little space to something that he simply could not control. It is well known that any group that CCP cannot control is considered as a threat to the Party and its ideology.
The inhumane practice of organ harvesting of Sect’s practitioners by CCP also reveals the ugliest face of China. In June 2019, the China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, a former prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal, concluded that Falun Gong remains the principal source of forced organ harvesting in China.
According to Ethan Gutmann, an investigative journalist, approx 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs in between 2000 to 2008. Whereas, as per human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour, 41,500 transplants in China were questionable and were linked with Falun in between 2000 to 2005.
In 2014, China announced that it would stop organ harvesting from executed prisoners, however, the practice never stopped. It means that Organ harvest industry has grown to such an extent that either Xi is unable to stop it or it’s so profitable that Xi does not want to stop it. Many reports claimed that these organs have been provided not only to the needy elites inside military and Party but also been exported by the handful of corrupt CCP members.
China has long been targeting Falun Gong practitioners abroad as well. Through its Overseas Police Stations, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) has been influencing and attacking its members across the globe. For instance, in May 2023, US authorities had arrested two Chinese, John Chen and Lin Fengon the charges of conspiring against the Falun Gong. In May 2021, US sanctioned Yu Hui, former Office Director of the Central Leading Group on Preventing and Dealing with Heretical Religions (also known as 610 Office) of Sichuan Province for his involvement ‘in gross violations of human rights, namely the arbitrary detention of Falun Gong practitioners for their spiritual beliefs.’
The ‘610 Office’ has so far remained the major player behind the atrocities against the Falun Gong members. It has long been accused of torturing, killing and sexually assaulting the FalunGong practitioners. It was established for the sole purpose of complete elimination of Falun Gong inside China. Today, the group monitors and punishes Falun Dafa associates, coordinates anti-Falun Gong propaganda and facilitates re-education programmes. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings in 2009 had blamed ‘610 Office’ of executing hundreds of Falun Dafa practitioners ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
With the New National Security Law in Hong Kong, where the practitioners had found refuge since 1999 and been quite vocal against CCP, Falun Dafa has been facing persecutions as well. The clause of “collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security” in National Security Law is being used to suppress the voices of Falun Dafa practitioners. Chinese Embassies across the globe are working relentlessly to suppress any Falun Gong related voices outside China. A former Chinese Diplomat in Australia, who defected in 2005, Chen Yonglin revealed that his primary work was to observe the activities of Falun Gong members. From being tortured, abused, raped and forced to organ trafficking, stories of Falun Gong practitioners are no less than of those residing in concentration camps in Xinjiang. But unlike Uyghurs and Tibetans, who gathered a lot of focus and support from various human rights activists and groups, Falun Gong still remains a neglected issue and there is a pressing need to focus on the issue by human rights activists across the world.