Sydney’s University of Technology (UTS) has stood up to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party by refusing to remove mention of a Falun Dafa meditation club from its website. As a result, the UTS website has been blocked in China, which is expected to lower the number of incoming Chinese students, substantially affecting university revenue.
At a Vice Chancellor’s meeting on June 20, UTS Vice Chancellor Ross Milbourne announced that an increase in undergraduate student fees was largely due to the university taking a principled stand in keeping Falun Dafa content on the site.
The incident is in line with allegations by Chinese defector Chen Yonglin of a general pattern of petty harassment and monitoring of Australian Falun Gong practitioners by Chinese Government agents.
Student Representative Council President, Michelle Sparkes, says there is continuing concern by the council about occasions of discrimination against the Falun Dafa meditation club, because of pressure from the Chinese Government. The latest episode was the deletion of the club and any mention of Falun Dafa from the Union website.
“[We] were aware it was because of the political pressure to do with China’s disapproval of the movement in China,” said Ms Sparkes.
“A staff member of UTS union… e-mailed me pointing out that the union had been told by the university to remove the Falun Dafa meditation society details from the websites where all the other clubs and societies were listed,” Ms Sparkes said.
Ms Zhao Ruoyun, a UTS lecturer in Business Studies and member of the Falun Dafa club, said she was shocked at such intimidation, but said the UTS Union and SRC were supportive and within a week the decision was reversed.
Ms Sparkes said: “I think that it is in part because the UTS Union employee didn’t just be quiet about it, he quite obviously and pointedly e-mailed to seven different bodies with a string of letters of support.”
The SRC passed a resolution, sent letters of condemnation to the Registrar, the university Vice Chancellor and the local state member of parliament. Ms Sparkes says that without student unions applying pressure and speaking up, issues such as these might not be addressed.
“[Unless] you have a framework and infrastructure set up there to do the kind of representational activity then who is going to take any notice? Who is going to listen?” she said.
The Falun Dafa meditation club was founded in UTS in the beginning of 2004. Ms Zhao said she and the other club members teach the Falun Dafa exercises for free and also participate in various club and university activities.
The meditation practice Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, was banned in China in July 1999 after its estimated numbers of over 70 million exceeded Chinese Communist Party membership. A brutal crackdown has followed, with over 2500 practitioners confirmed dead through torture and abuse in custody.
A Chinese diplomat who defected recently,in Sydney, has confirmed that the CCP has spread the persecution of Falun Dafa, to overseas countries, by harrassing Falun Dafa practitioners and pressuring, individuals, companies and nations, to ignore human rights issues if they want to trade with China.