On April 25, 1999, more than 10,000 Falun Gong adherents gathered outside the central government compound in Beijing to peacefully petition for the release of arrested fellow adherents and the right to practise their faith after several years of state harassment.
It was by far the biggest freedom-of-belief protest in China’s history, and although it ended with the issues seemingly resolved, three months later the regime launched a sweeping nationwide campaign of persecution against Falun Gong that continues today.
“What should have been a great opportunity for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to embrace a group of 100 million people who believe in truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, instead turned into 19 years of terror, torture, and murder,” said a statement issued by the Falun Dafa Association of Canada.
To mark the 19th anniversary of the protest, Falun Gong practitioners and supporters held rallies in various cities across the country, including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
Speakers called for an end to the persecution campaign and the release of the 11 practitioners with Canadian ties currently imprisoned in China, including Sun Qian, a Vancouver resident and Canadian citizen who was arrested while in China last February.
Sun has since endured abuse at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Centre where she is being held, including being forced to undergo brainwashing sessions while waiting for a show trial scheduled for sometime in early May.
“In life, you have to support the causes that leave a good legacy,” said retired senator Consiglio Di Nino at the Toronto rally in front of the Chinese consulate.
“I’m proud to be here, and I’ll continue to be here to stand with my friends, the practitioners of Falun Gong, and say China, it’s time that you treat all of your citizens as human beings,” said Di Nino, one of the founders of the Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong.
Li Jianfeng, formerly a judge in China who spoke at the Vancouver rally, said the April 25 protest was the largest appeal for civil rights in China’s history—rights that are guaranteed by the constitution.
But the regime went against its own constitution when it launched its persecution campaign on July 20, 1999.
“From the very beginning, the Chinese Communist Party has been an enemy of justice and goodness,” he said. “Due to its very nature, it fears truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, and views Falun Gong with hatred. But evil can never triumph over goodness, righteousness.”
Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is a traditional spiritual practice handed down from ancient China that teaches living by the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. It became immensely popular after it was made public in 1992 and grew rapidly. It was supported, awarded, and even endorsed by Chinese authorities for the benefits it brought to society.
But in the mid-1990s, when the regime discovered that approximately 100 million people were practising Falun Gong and that it wasn’t controlled by the state, practitioners across the country began to be harassed, attacked in the news, and sprayed with fire hoses when they gathered in parks to do the Falun Gong exercises. Some were beaten up and arrested.
The peaceful gathering on Aril 25, 1999, was an attempt to gain official recognition and halt the harassment.
Vancouver practitioner Zhang Li, a former teacher in China, was there that day. She heard that some practitioners had been arrested in Tianjin and she immediately decided to go to the government compound of Zhongnanhai to join the appeal.
“The date April 25 is forever remembered in my heart,” she said at the rally.
Zhang explained that at around 9 p.m. that night, a Falun Gong representative who had met with the authorities came out of Zhongnanhai and told those nearby to spread the word that the government had agreed to release the 45 arrested practitioners, allow Falun Gong books to be published again, and give practitioners the right to freely practise. The crowd then quietly dispersed.
It could have ended there, but instead the opposite happened—the regime began its campaign to crush the practice in July, just three months later, resulting in widespread arrests, torture, and brainwashing, fuelled by an intensive propaganda campaign.
On top of that is the evidence uncovered by independent researchers estimating that at least 45,000 Falun Gong prisoners of conscience have been killed for their organs between 2000 and 2008 to feed China’s multi-billion-dollar transplant industry.
“[Forced organ harvesting] has to stop,” said Trevor Skillen, a local resident who attended the Vancouver rally. “It’s an evil thing that they’re doing, there’s no question. This means the government doesn’t even realize the humanity of their own citizens, so this is a government that should not be allowed to govern.”
Ms. Zhang, a volunteer with Tuidang (Quit the CCP movement) who spoke at the Montreal rally, said the Party “is pushing down the Chinese people and destroying people’s morality.”
“This is precisely the evil of the Communist Party,” she said. “It makes people not believe in god and the ancient belief that good will be rewarded and evil punished. This is precisely how the Party destroys people.”