FDIC: Eleven Years of Persecution and Peaceful Activism
20 Jul 2010
NEW YORK - Eleven years ago this week, the Chinese Communist Party launched a campaign to eradicate Falun Gong--a peaceful and popular spiritual practice embraced by tens of millions of Chinese citizens. But the practitioners of Falun Gong are not the only victims, and the lives destroyed and lost are not the only costs.
Following the Communist Party's decision to suppress Falun Gong on July 20th, 1999, Falun Gong books were burned in mass public displays, the state-run media turned out a deluge of propaganda to vilify the practice. Falun Gong practitioners were stripped of their rights to free expression, religious practice, and legal protections. Schools expelled students for practicing Falun Gong, and workplaces turned in employees to be imprisoned and tortured.
Falun Gong practitioners today represent the largest group of prisoners of conscience in the world, with hundreds of thousands extra-judicially imprisoned at any given time. Tens of thousands have been tortured in custody as prison guards attempt to force them to recant their beliefs. They are shocked with electric batons, burned, hung from ceilings, and beaten. They are denied adequate nutrition, and force-fed with hot peppers and human excrement. Women are raped, and even children and the elderly are not sparred imprisonment and abuse. Mounting evidence suggests many--thousands or even tens of thousands--have been killed for the extraction and sale of their vital organs. In 2009, over 109 reports were verified of practitioners killed as a result of abuse in custody.
Even outside of China's borders, Falun Gong adherents are not free from the threat of surveillance, intimidation, defamation and even violence at the hands of Communist Party agents.
The Killing of Conscience
The Communist Party's campaign of suppression is not merely about the physical security of Falun Gong adherents. Rather, it represents a threat to something far more fundamental and lasting: the rights of individuals to seek to better themselves, and the collective values and integrity of an entire nation.
When the suppression in 1999 started, Falun Gong practitioners had never expressed any political ambitions. They were not subversive. They did not advocate for political transformation, and instead sought only the transformation of their own hearts. But even though they were not political dissidents, they were spiritual dissidents. In a nation where violence had been glorified, they chose to believe in compassion and patience. In a system pervaded by deception and corruption, they practiced truth. And in a China whose new mantra was that 'to be rich is glorious,' they sought meaning not in the pursuit of money, but through meditation, self-reflection, and the practice of altruism.
As Falun Gong grew in China--with an estimated over 70 million people practicing by 1999--its popularity attracted the ire of top Communist Party leaders, who viewed its moral philosophy as ideological competition. This dynamic was described in an editorial from official Communist Party mouthpiece Xinhua News Agency, which ran on July 27th, 1999, declaring: "the 'truth, kindness and tolerance' principle preached by [Falun Gong] has nothing in common with the socialist ethical and cultural progress we are striving to achieve."
The persecution aims not to kill Falun Gong practitioners; deaths in custody are generally a by-product. The true objective is forced religious conversion. Individuals who aspire to lead moral lives, who aspire to altruism and kindness, are imprisoned, vilified, and tortured for the purpose of turning them into people without spiritual belief. After they are "reformed" through coercion and abuse, they are then forced to partake in the "transformation" of other Falun Gong practitioners. In a sense, the goal of persecution is to turn law-abiding people who aspire to kindness into people who inform on and torture their friends.
A Nation Victimized
Falun Gong practitioners are not the only victims of persecution in China. The suppression of Falun Gong has been directed by the Communist Party and its security forces, but it has been executed with the help and acquiescence of hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens.
Police officers who entered their profession in order to protect the people have been forced to imprison elderly women for meditating in parks. Labor camp guards are threatened with the loss of jobs if they don't partake in the torture and abuse of Falun Gong detainees, and reporters and editors are forced to print hate speech against the practice. School teachers are required to ensure that none of their students believe in Falun Gong, and employers are made to turn in productive employees to be sent to labor camps. Ordinary citizens are offered monetary rewards for informing on their neighbors who practice Falun Gong, and judges are not allowed to rule in favor of justice when Falun Gong adherents are brought before them.
And if nothing else, Chinese citizens have been told by their country's leaders to hate Falun Gong, to feel contempt for its teachings of truth, compassion, and tolerance, and to stay silent when faced with injustice.
These are the other victims of the suppression of Falun Gong. True, they are not behind bars, nor denied educations and jobs because of their beliefs. But they have been denied something even more important than physical freedoms--a clean conscience. They have been robbed of their integrity, blinded from truth. And it is for these people for whom Falun Gong adherents in China continue to risk their lives.
Since the suppression of Falun Gong began eleven years ago, the response by Falun Gong practitioners has been a path of non-violent efforts to educate their compatriots of the truth. They have countered a barrage of official propaganda with underground printing houses, where they create informational materials about the real nature of their spiritual beliefs. They have launched a satellite television station to broadcast uncensored news to China, and developed circumvention software to break through Internet censorship, enabling millions of Chinese citizens to freely access information. They have nurtured performing and visual arts groups to bring a message of peace, compassion, truth and hope to the Chinese people.
Today, there is reason for optimism. As time has worn on, a growing number of Chinese people are refusing to be complicit in the persecution against Falun Gong. By the hundreds of thousands, they write letters to Falun Gong websites expressing their support and solidarity with persecuted adherents. Dozens of human rights lawyers are now actively seeking to defend Falun Gong adherents, even though they know doing so will result in their disbarment and possibly torture.
More and more Chinese people are refusing to be cowed by threats of violence, because they know that a life lived without freedom of conscience is not a life worth living. They realize that the right to seek truth and to pursue self-actualization is what makes us human. It is what makes a person strong, it is what gives meaning and value to life. It is what enables a nation or a culture, to flourish, and it is these things that, one day, can truly enable the nation of China to reach its full potential, a China that the world would like to see.
Category: Opinion & Perspective