WASHINGTON—On a blistering hot day in front of the U.S. Capitol, several members of Congress, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and several speakers from faith and human rights organizations condemned the 18-year persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China and questioned China’s fitness to be a friend and ally of the United States and other civilized nations.
At the annual event, hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners from across the country assemble each year to publicize the atrocities in China and seek support from Congress and the U.S. government in general. It was the 18th anniversary of the day when the Chinese regime officially launched the persecution of Falun Gong on July 20, 1999.
This year, there was much enthusiasm for the actions that the new administration and the American people can do to stop the prosecution.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), referring to a report released by Freedom House earlier this year, said: “Falun Gong practitioners are subject to widespread surveillance, arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and torture, and they are at a high risk of extrajudicial execution. And despite China’s best efforts to deny or whitewash the truth, there is good reason to believe that its practice of organ harvesting continues to this day.”
She referred to House Resolution 343, which expresses concern by the House of Representatives on “persistent and credible reports of systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from nonconsenting prisoners of conscience in the People’s Republic of China.” The resolution, which Ros-Lehtinen cosponsored, was passed unanimously in June 2016. At the rally, she called for the immediate end of the persecution of Falun Gong and the “ghoulish” practice of forced organ harvesting by the Chinese communist regime.
‘One of the Greatest Crimes’
Turning to who is culpable for the crimes against humanity, Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-N.J.) statement was the most succinct:
“The Chinese Communist Party has sought to stamp out Falun Gong practice [in] China. Their brutal campaign to eradicate the Falun Gong is one of the greatest crimes of the last two decades. The blame for these crimes lay squarely on the shoulders of the Chinese Communist Party,” said Smith, in a letter addressed to the rally.
Smith is chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights & International Organizations of the House of Representatives, and in that role, holds hearings and drafts legislation on human rights. He eloquently laid out the moral question for the U.S. government in its relationship with the China regime:
“What kind of country murders, tortures, imprisons peaceful individuals seeking enlightenment through meditation and better health?
“Can we ever trust such a country as an ally? As a security partner? As a trusted partner in trade? Of course, the answer is no,” Smith said.
This point of view was echoed by the chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who also provided a letter of support. “Ultimately, China can never be a responsible stakeholder as long as it persists in subjecting its own people to abuse, torture, and repression, and continues to deny them basic human rights.”
Dr. Daniel Mark , chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said that since his commission’s creation, it has requested each year for the State Department to designate China as a “Country of Particular Concern,” or CPC, meaning that China is one of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. Mark noted that USCIRF is unlike any other government agency in that it focuses exclusively on freedom of religion or belief.
Robert Herman, vice-president of Freedom House, underscored the importance of religious freedom, especially for the United States. “Religious liberty is in the American DNA. It is part of our heritage. Religious liberty is a pillar of our democratic system,” Herman said.
The international community will have to confront the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) about its intolerance and crimes in order for real progress to be made in setting a new course. “This requires that American politicians and the international community dispense with any notions that the CCP is a legitimate government,” said Alan Adler, executive director of Friends of Falun Gong, who hosted the event.
Forced Religious Conversions
Other members of Congress focused on the fact that while the CCP is unrestrained in its violations of religious freedom, yet Falun Gong practitioners remain nonviolent in their response.
Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) was especially disturbed by the efforts by Chinese authorities to “transform” Falun Gong practitioners through forced religious conversion, “efforts to force religious conversion have culminated in thousands of Falun Gong practitioners being held in prisons, detention centers, and forced labor camps, under deplorable conditions, simply for their beliefs,” he said. He offered that governments should not be dictating a person’s belief and faith. “It is incomprehensible and unacceptable for people to be treated in such a cruel, inhumane, and degrading manner.”
Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), who is well-acquainted with Falun Gong practitioners in the Philadelphia area, admired Falun Gong for practicing nonviolence throughout the persecution.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) also said, in a letter of support, “Your peaceful commitment to human rights remains an example to others.”
Dr. T. Kumar, International Advocacy director for Amnesty International, referred to Falun Gong members as “nonviolent and peaceful people.”
Practitioners Are Remarkable
Rothfus explained that the three principles of Falun Gong—truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance—are sincerely practiced by adherents. “The people that I have met at this event and over the years truly embody these traits, especially regarding their response to the human rights violations in China,” he said.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said that the Falun Gong practitioners in the audience and those residing in communist China are owed a special thanks. “Falun Gong saves the world from evil forces,” he said, adding that the China mainland and the Chinese people are under the control of a “clique of gangsters” who repress its people and threaten the world. The Falun Gong response “reminds us” of the nefarious intentions of the regime, which many people in the United States don’t care about or understand, he says. “The good people of America stand with you. We will win this fight for humanity and make it a better world.”
Faith McDonnell, director of religious liberty programs at The Institute on Religion & Democracy, admired the resilience of Falun Gong practitioners. She quoted the saying, “I survived the fire because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.” Falun Gong practitioners survived the fire of communist oppression and brutality because of the fire inside them, she said. MacDonnell has spoke at the annual rally for 12 years.
Herman observed, “There should be no doubt that Falun Gong practitioners are changing China rather than the other way around.”
Several speakers talked about actions that can be taken to help end the persecution of Falun Gong.
“Congress and the administration must work to pressure China to end this horrific persecution,” said Rachel Wagley, a staffer who spoke on behalf of Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.). Wagner wants to see the enactment of laws that will curb the practice of organ tourism. American medical facilities need to exercise caution in admitting doctors from China who apply for U.S. exchange programs, she said.
David Cleveland, senior lawyer for Catholic Charities of Washington, was appalled at China using Falun Gong practitioners as a “living donor bank” in providing organs on demand. He said that U.S. medical schools should stop training doctors from China in organ transplantation. He also said the District of Columbia should rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy as “Falun Gong Plaza.”
Mark said that his organization’s CPC designation was just words and that we need more than words. The president, State Department, and Congress can act, he said. He mentioned the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that enables the “U.S. government to target individual officers, not just whole governments, who abuse religious freedom.”
Dr. Linda Lagemann from the Citizens Commission on Human Rights said some Chinese psychiatrists are guilty of “inventing mental disorders to justify the incarceration of Falun Gong members.” An example that gives away their true intentions is the invented disorder of “delusions of reform.”
“[Falun Gong practitioners] are forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs, receive massive amounts of electroshock through acupuncture needles, endure forced sleep deprivation, and are tied up for long periods of time,” she said.
Lagemann said that as “these are unconscionable atrocities and require immediate action,” the International Criminal Court should get involved. The ICC can prosecute the psychiatrists and officials for crimes against humanity, she said.
Dan Fefferman, president of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom, said: “I call on President Trump to use his influence to stop this repression of Falun Gong. Mr. Trump, speak to your new Chinese friends about the rights of Falun Gong.”
Letters of support not already mentioned came from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), Rep. Phil Poe (R-Md.), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kas.), Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.).