The Practice and Persecution of Falun Gong: In Illinois and Around the World

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THOU SHALL NOT PASS
On June 12, when Hubert Zhou, a resident of Chicago, presented his ticket at the Icelandic Air ticket counter in Minneapolis St.Paul airport for that evening’s flight to Iceland, rather than have his bags checked and his boarding pass issued, he was asked to step aside and speak to the station manager. The manager informed Mr. Zhou that his name was on “the list.” What list? The Iceland Ministry of Justice had given Icelandic Air a list of individuals in the United States and other countries around the world suspected of being Falun Gong practitioners. Icelandic Air was forbidden from allowing anyone on this list to fly to Iceland. Any employees who slipped up and allowed someone to make the trip risked losing their jobs. No refund was offered for the suddenly invalid ticket.

What happened to Hubert Zhou also happened to seven other Falun Gong practitioners that night in Minneapolis, six of them from Chicago and one from St. Louis. Around this time the same thing also happened to other practitioners in Baltimore, Boston, New York, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, London, Paris, and Stockholm. These practitioners had wanted to travel to Iceland because Jiang Zemin, the head of the Communist Party, the government, and the military of the People’s Republic of China, was due there on a state visit. Jiang pressured the government of Iceland to do things it had never done in its proud 1,000 year long history of protecting fundamental rights– restrict travel to Iceland and detain people inside Iceland on the basis of their beliefs; and restrict the freedoms of speech and assembly.

Hubert Zhou had wished to go to Iceland in order to respond to the propaganda against Falun Gong that Jiang Zemin dispenses wherever he goes, and to appeal peacefully to Jiang himself, the people of Iceland, and the people of the world to end the persecution of Falun Gong in China. Falun Gong has no membership rolls. Mr. Zhou and his fellow practitioners wondered where this blacklist came from, and who compiled it. In order to understand what happened at the ticket counter in Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in June, a little background about what Falun Gong is and how Jiang began persecuting it may be in order.

WHAT FALUN GONG IS
Falun Gong (also called Falun Dafa) is an ancient, traditional form of practice that was taught in private for thousands of years before being made public in 1992 by Mr. Li Hongzhi. In the following five years, Mr. Li devoted himself to teaching it in China as well as outside China.

Falun Gong involves the practice of five, simple meditative exercises, and a set of teachings that are set forth in the speeches and writings of Li Hongzhi. Zhuan Falun is the principle book, and is studied regularly by practitioners. These teachings can be summed up in three words: truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Practitioners, all over the world including here in Urbana-Champaign, strive to become better people by embodying these three principles in everything they do.

Falun Gong is not a religion. There are no priests, hierarchy, churches or temples, dues, rituals, liturgies or catechisms in Falun Gong. It is a “loose cultivation practice,” with no official organization. All activities are free and voluntary. The teachings of Falun Gong forbid practitioners from being involved in politics. They are taught to devote themselves to self-improvement, with the understanding that society as a whole will benefit if the individuals in society work to become better people.

Practitioners of Falun Gong typically report improved health, sometimes dramatically so, with chronic or life-threatening diseases being completely reversed. And they also report various improvements in mental health such as less stress, a greater ability to handle conflicts, greater harmony in the family, and greater feelings of contentment.

FALUN GONG IN CHINA
Falun Gong enjoyed explosive growth in China before the persecution began, and has also spread rapidly around the world. A 1999 survey done by the Chinese government reported that between seventy and one hundred million people practiced Falun Gong in China. Falun Gong is now practiced in fifty-five countries outside China.

The sheer number of people practicing Falun Gong scared some members of the Chinese Communist Party, most notably Jiang Zemin. In fact, a large number of Communist Party members, including many very high-ranking ones, practiced Falun Gong, and found no conflict between it and their official duties. But the Communist Party in China has never tolerated any groups that are independent of it. In addition, under Jiang Zemin, the Communist Party has shown itself hostile to any forms of spirituality that the Party does not control. Freedom House recently released internal party documents that set out a campaign to suppress not only Falun Gong, but Catholics who acknowledge the Pope, Evangelical Christians, Uigher Muslims, etc. (See: http://www.freedomhouse.org/religion/news/bn2002/bn-2002-02-11.htm)

On July 20, 1999, Jiang began a campaign to “eradicate” Falun Gong. This campaign of terror has been comprehensive and brutal. At this time Falun Gong practitioners can confirm the deaths of 474 practitioners in police custody. Sources inside the government in October, 2001 placed the true death toll at over 1,600. The government’s official policy is to identify every single practitioner and brainwash her or him. If they do not renounce Falun Gong in writing after being brainwashed in centers created just for this purpose, then they are sentenced to China’s notorious labor camps. In addition to being held in Labor Camps, practitioners are held in “transformation centers” — places of detention created solely for the purpose of torturing Falun Gong practitioners — and jails throughout China. Sane and healthy practitioners are also involuntarily committed to mental hospitals, where they are tortured by medical personnel using massive doses of psychotropic drugs and electro-convulsive therapy, among other methods. All those who are detained, whether in jails or elsewhere, are likely to be subject to beatings and torture. Women are singled out for various forms of sexual abuse and humiliation, including rape and gang rape. The Hong Kong Center for Human Rights and Democracy estimates that 20,000 practitioners are held in Labor Camps, 100,000 in other forms of detention, and 1,000 in mental hospitals. Practitioners of Falun Gong believe that the numbers of those detained are in fact much, much higher.

THE GLOBAL PERSECUTION MACHINE
While the Chinese government has attempted to “eradicate” Falun Gong in China, it is also working to harass, intimidate and slander it here in the United States where there have been several incidents of practitioners being attacked, including two in Chicago. Also in Chicago a practitioner’s car was torched. Since July 1999, there have been several mysterious break-ins into practitioners’ apartments in which the only thing taken was information about Falun Gong. Practitioners have come home to find on their answering machines tape recordings of private conversations they had earlier in the day with other practitioners in homes, in public places, and on cell phones. The intent of the government is to intimidate the practitioners by letting them know that they are being spied upon. There have been death threats. E-mail accounts are regularly attacked.

The Chinese language media in the U.S., much of which is owned by the Chinese government, regularly carry government propaganda slandering Falun Gong.

In response to this campaign, fifty-one Falun Gong practitioners from every region of the country in April of this year filed a R.I.C.O. suit in the federal district court in D.C. alleging that two Chinese ministries, the China Star media corporation, and the staff of the embassy and several consulates in the United States were engaged in a conspiracy to deny Falun Gong practitioners their constitutional rights.

Outside the United States, there have been similar activities. For instance, in Canada a federal court found a Chinese newspaper in contempt for repeatedly slandering Falun Gong in spite of a court order to stop. During a visit by Jiang Zemin to Germany this spring, the German government, under pressure from the Chinese, forced Falun Gong practitioners out of hotels, and actually tried to prevent people from wearing the colors of blue or yellow, colors associated with Falun Gong. In Hong Kong, the government recently conducted a trial against sixteen practitioners, arrested simply for having a peaceful demonstration on a public sidewalk – in spite of numerous precedents that supported the practitioners right to be where they were. In Auckland, New Zealand, the government, under pressure from the Chinese, refused to allow Falun Gong practitioners to rent a billboard in the airport. In Cambodia, a few weeks ago the government violated its treaty agreements by forcibly returning to China two practitioners who had been granted refugee status by the United Nations.

Given this pattern of behavior in and out of the United States, what happened to Hubert Zhou and his fellow practitioners from Chicago and St. Louis is not hard to understand. The blacklist was compiled by spying conducted by the People’s Republic of China here in Illinois and the rest of the United States on our citizens and residents, and is now being used as yet one more tool in the Chinese government’s attempt to suppress Falun Gong.

The significance of the blacklist is simply this: Jiang Zemin fears Hubert Zhou and all of the other practitioners outside China. He fears them because he does not want them telling the truth about the infamy happening in China. He does not want them telling the truth to the Chinese population, who are subjected to daily propaganda meant to delude them about Falun Gong. And he does not want them telling the truth to governments and peoples outside of China, who are beginning to understand what a human rights catastrophe is taking place there.

A STRUGGLE THAT NEEDS AND DESERVES YOUR HELP
For three years now the practitioners of Falun Gong in China have heroically resisted Jiang’s campaign to eradicate them. They have done so by using every peaceful and non-violent means available to convey to the Chinese people and the Chinese government: the truth about Falun Gong; the fact that the government should obey the law and honor its constitution and treaty obligations that guarantee fundamental human rights; and the fact that the people of China do have such rights. The world should stand firmly at the side of the Falun Gong practitioners in China. When the most populous nation and the world’s next great power stops persecuting Falun Gong and begins to guarantee the human rights of its population, the whole world will enter a new era of respect for human decency.

In order to learn more about Falun Gong, please visit http://www.falundafa.org. In order to learn more about the persecution of Falun Gong, please visit http://www.faluninfo.net.

Stephen Gregory is an Administrator at the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. student there with the Committee on Social Thought. He began practicing Falun Gong in November, 1998.

Dongdong Zhang came to the U.S. in 1997. She moved to Champaign two and a half years ago to obtain her Ph.D. in special education from the U of I. She has been practicing Falun Gong since May 1994.

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