SANTA MONICA—Near noontime at Santa Monica Pier on Oct. 17, practitioners of Falun Gong recounted tales of torture, courage, and determination in the face of an inhumane persecution that is still taking place across the Pacific.
“I was illegally detained many times. The longest period was eleven years and two months. I was beaten and monitored while in detention. I was also subject to brainwashing,” said Zhang Peng, a former college lecturer and practicing attorney in China.
From Oct. 15 to Oct. 17, over 4,000 Falun Gong adherents from around the world gathered in Los Angeles to hold parades, rallies, and a candlelight vigil to raise awareness about a brutal persecution in China.
Zhang practices Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline that was first introduced in China in 1992, and is now practiced by tens of millions worldwide. Practitioners do five sets of slow moving exercises, and live by the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
But the Chinese Communist Party refused to let Zhang and millions of other Falun Gong practitioners stay healthy in body and spirit. On July 20, 1999, former Party chief Jiang Zemin vowed to eliminate the practice, and started a persecution of Falun Gong that is now in its sixteenth year.
Nearly 3,900 practitioners have been killed from torture and abuse, and hundreds of thousands have been held in prisons and labor camps, according to Minghui.org, a website that carries information about Falun Gong and the persecution in China.
Researchers have estimated that 65,000 practitioners were killed in the period 2000-2008 by having their organs harvested for use in China’s profitable transplantation industry. With the practice of forced organ harvesting believed to have continued, the true death toll is thought to be much higher.
Surrounded by large banners calling for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong at the rally site at Santa Monica Pier, Gao Weiwei gave an account of the torture inflicted on her sister, Gao Rongrong, whose high profile death by persecution was documented by Amnesty International.
Gao Rongrong was “deprived of sleep, forced to do slave labor and was brainwashed. Prison guards shocked her face with electric batons for seven hours straight, burning her face to a crisp,” said Gao Weiwei.
Jiang Li, a practitioner from the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, said nearly everyone in her family had been detained and tortured. Jiang’s father was beaten to death in 2009, his body cremated without the family’s consent, and Chinese officials told her family that his organs were removed and made into specimens.
Jiang’s family hired attorneys to seek justice for their father, but they too weren’t spared: “As soon as the two lawyers arrived at my parents home, people from the public security bureau, the police station, the 610 Office, and the Political and Legal Affairs committee, broke in and started beating the lawyers and my family members.” The 610 Office is a Gestapo-like organization set up to enforce the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.
Zhang Peng, Gao Weiwei, and Jiang Li have all recently mailed criminal complaints against Jiang Zemin (no relation to Jiang Li) to the Chinese regime’s highest prosecuting body. Over 180,000 complaints have been submitted since May after a legal reform required all complaints to be accepted and the plaintiffs acknowledged.
Dr. Yingnian Wu, the spokesperson for Falun Gong in Los Angeles and professor at the University of California (Los Angeles) said: “We believe that soon Jiang Zemin will be brought to justice and will be punished according to the law, the international law, and also the laws in China, because Jiang Zemin has broken many laws in China.”
‘A Very Beautiful Event’
At 1:00 p.m. Pacific time, about 1,000 Falun Gong practitioners marched from the Third Street Promenade shopping district to Santa Monica Pier, down to the ocean, and back.
Dressed in yellow T-shirts and white pants, they carried flags and banners with the words “Falun Gong is Good” and “Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance” in English and Chinese. A waist band troupe accompanied the marchers.
“I feel that this parade is a very beautiful event,” said Emmanuel Smith, a heart doctor who was watching the parade. “I think it’s really good for Santa Monica. This world needs some peace and tolerance and diversity.”
“In the course of the world changes, many people have been persecuted, and I feel that all people in all parts of the world should be shown equal tolerance.”
Another parade spectator, filmmaker Dave High, said: “I would be happy to march right behind them all the way, as far my old legs could make it. It’s a wonderful thing. They come out and stand up for freedom, especially freedom of thought and freedom of religion.”
Petition to End Organ Harvesting
For most of the afternoon, scores of Falun Gong practitioners gave demonstrations of the practice’s slow-moving standing exercises and sitting meditation exercise as flags bearing the Falun—a colored circle with four yin-yang and five golden swastika symbols on it—fluttered in the cool Pacific breeze. Before it was made notorious by the Nazis, the swastika had a long history as an ancient Buddhist symbol that connotes good fortune.
Practitioners also set up a booth to provide information about organ harvesting in China and gather signatures for a petition to end the crimes.
Local resident Paul Capcan-Bennett signed the petition after reading a brochure on organ harvesting as he was passing through the area with his family.
“I was shocked upon further reading,” Capcan-Bennett said. “Why haven’t I heard about this before?”
“I don’t know how the Communist Party operates, but the people in the free world should know the truth and apply pressure on the Chinese government. I know that one person cannot change the world, but if enough people step out, there will be change after a certain point,” he said.
Former U.S. Marine Paul Antoine, his wife, and a friend also signed the petition. “This live organ harvesting must be stopped immediately,” Antoine said.
“I once served this nation, and I will do my best to protect those people who are suppressed by tyranny,” he said. “That’s why I signed.”