A former university librarian in Shanghai sits at her home computer. Using proxy servers, Ms. Liu Jin breaks through China’s vast “Great Firewall” and accesses a Falun Gong-related website. She downloads accounts of rights abuses against fellow adherents and begins printing. Soon, the stack of homemade, underground newsletters finds its way into the hands and mailboxes of neighbors, local shopkeepers, and former colleagues. A “materials production site,” one of tens of thousands across China, is born, bringing into people’s hands basic facts of injustice that the Communist Party has worked tirelessly to censor.
For this nonviolent act of courage, Ms. Liu is punished harshly. As reported by the Associated Press, she was sentenced last month to 3.5 years in prison in an unfair trial that lasted less than a day. (news) Having been tortured and force-fed during a previous imprisonment for practicing Falun Gong, she once again faces a similar fate—or worse.
Sixty years after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), millions of ordinary citizens across China remain in danger of arbitrary detention, torture, and death. For what? For doing nothing more than exercising the very basic rights to freedom of belief and expression that are cornerstones of the UDHR.
A Brutal Suppression Unfolds
When former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin ordered Falun Gong to be “eradicated” in 1999, tens of millions of ordinary Chinese overnight found themselves rendered “criminals” by virtue of their peaceful faith. A brutal state apparatus committed to proactively preventing them from pursuing a traditional Chinese path of physical self-improvement and spiritual fulfillment that had become a fundamental part of their identity. It was trying to change who they were.
“During the 16 days of the Olympics alone, eleven Falun Gong adherents are confirmed to have died from abuse in custody.”
Any avenue they might use to stop this assault was closed off—the state-run media would only spew horrific anti-Falun Gong propaganda claims, petitioning offices were turned into detention centers, and Party-appointed judges were hardly going to depart from the official line.
Nearly a decade later, hundreds of thousands remain in labor camps—at least half of China’s gulag population, according to experts (report). Thousands more are in prisons following trials not unlike Ms. Liu’s. They are beaten, shocked with electric batons, and injected with various drugs, sometimes causing paralysis or death. Recent investigations have revealed evidence that adherents have been killed so their organs could be sold for profit. (news) Untold numbers are left destitute, refugees in their own country, unable to return to their homes or jobs for fear that local police will take them away.
Branches of the 610 Office—an extra-legal task force created in 1999 to lead the campaign against Falun Gong—remain active across China, not only in security agencies and government offices, but also in private companies, universities, and neighborhood watch committees (report). The latest report by the Congressional Executive Committee on China found references to the agency across the country—from Nanjing to Yunnan to Jiangxi. Official accounts of a pre-Olympic crackdown on Falun Gong appeared on government websites in all of China’s 31 provincial-level jurisdictions. (report) The result? During the 16 days of the Olympics alone, eleven Falun Gong adherents are confirmed to have died from abuse in custody.
Unsung Heroes Respond
Communist Party leaders and state-run media claim that Falun Gong has been crushed. But this begs the question – why then would a nationwide apparatus like the 610 Office remain active and growing? Why would labor camps continue to fill with adherents? The fact is, today Falun Gong practitioners in China continue to resist Party efforts to “eradicate” them. They persist in their faith, produce underground newsletters, hang banners, and simply talk to people in day-to-day conversations. They explain the innocence of Falun Gong, the horrific abuses being meted out against adherents, and the Party’s broader history of persecuting the Chinese people—all this in an effort to awaken the consciences of fellow citizens. This is crucial in a context where the state controls media and uses it to dehumanize Falun Gong, mobilizing the rank and file to implement the policy of “eradicating” the practice.
The efforts of Falun Gong adherents are starting to bear fruit with the result that practitioners are no longer fighting the battle to end the persecution alone. A generation of daring, world renown lawyers has risen to defend them, defying Party orders and risking their own safety (news). They plead their clients’ innocence with defenses based on the Chinese Constitution and the UDHR, as attorney Mo Shaoping did for Ms. Liu (news).
Nevertheless, the Chinese regime remains uncompromising in its policies against Falun Gong. Arrests and torture are still widespread and systematic. That is why now, more than ever, the support of the outside world is needed to end this injustice and brutality once and for all. Two vital, yet simple steps that any of us can take towards this end are to, first, educate ourselves and peel back Party propaganda that has unwittingly seeped into mainstream Western reporting; second, follow the lead of adherents in China and talk directly to the Chinese people.
From colleagues to neighbors, private sector entrepreneurs to state company managers, in trainings with local judges and research with university professors, we must make a proactive effort to encourage Chinese to question what they’ve been told and to read the very information on Falun Gong that the Party blocks. We must articulate that taking a stance against rights abuses is not being “anti-China,” but rather moving the country a step closer to truly realizing its historic greatness.
Practitioners and their supporters inside China risk their careers, freedom, and even their lives to resist injustice. Joining their efforts is the least we can do for the likes of Ms. Liu on this international human rights day.
After all, ending atrocities like these is precisely the reason why the UDHR was created.
Levi Browde is Executive Director of the Falun Dafa Information Center in New York.