LOS ANGELES—Over 150 practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong gathered for a candlelight vigil in front of the Chinese Consulate on April 23.
April 25 marks more than two decades since around 10,000 practitioners of Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, quietly gathered near the Central Appeals Office in Beijing in 1999 to petition the government for the release of 45 practitioners illegally arrested in Tianjin, a city 60 miles east of Beijing.
At that time, up to 100 million people in China were practicing Falun Gong, according to official estimates. Since then, adherents have been arrested and tortured within the country’s prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric wards in an effort to force them to renounce their faith.
“You can see the sharp contrast between Falun Gong practitioners’ peacefulness and the brutality of the persecution,” Michael Ye, the host of the vigil, told The Epoch Times.
The vigil commemorates those who appealed for the right to practice their faith without being harassed by the government.
On the same day, Falun Gong practitioners held a candlelight vigil in front of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco.
“The practice of Falun Gong has helped millions recover from illnesses and become better people; these people are very kind and peaceful, yet they have been brutally persecuted by the Chinese Communist regime,” Ye said.
Practitioners wore the colors yellow and blue and held up signs that read “truthfulness, compassion, tolerance”—the core tenets of Falun Gong.
Most of the practitioners were silent with solemn expressions as they meditated during the rally.
Many attendees of the vigil held photos of their family members and loved ones who lost their lives during the persecution.
Several speakers called for an end to the brutal persecution of Falun Gong, which has been carried out by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1999.
“We’ve come here almost every year for the past 22 years to raise public awareness. The persecution has lasted for too long, and the tragedies have been too many,” Ye said.
“Human rights and freedom are the founding principles of this great country. We sincerely hope that the U.S. government and media can do more to help these innocent people and help end the persecution as soon as possible.”
Wu Yingnian, a UCLA professor of statistics, said Falun Gong’s peaceful resistance is an “example of how to make change and how to seek justice with completely peaceful means.”
“In that appeal, Falun Gong practitioners were extremely peaceful and orderly, and completely, absolutely nonviolent,” Wu told The Epoch Times.
More than two decades and untold thousands of unnatural deaths later, the CCP continues to persecute Falun Gong practitioners. Many have been subjected to state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting in China.
An Eye-Witness Account
The chain of events leading up to the April 25, 1999, appeal was sparked by an article slandering Falun Gong, published in a youth journal by the Tianjin College of Education.
The news media in China is controlled by the CCP. Therefore, when a newspaper or journal voices a position on a particular issue, it indicates that the CCP has taken a particular stance.
After the article was published on April 11, 1999, many practitioners went to the state-run media outlet’s office to protest the biased coverage.
The appeal lasted for 11 days, until about 300 police officers in riot gear arrested 45 Falun Gong practitioners on April 23, 1999. Many practitioners were beaten while in custody.
“When these kind people were arrested simply because they went to express their opinions, their views—that was totally wrong,” Zhang Yong, a witness to the appeal 22 years ago, told The Epoch Times.
Zhang was attending the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing when he learned of the arrests in Tianjin.
He recalled feeling “quite shocked” upon learning of the arrests.
As a practitioner of Falun Gong, Zhang decided to go to the Central Appeals Office on April 25, 1999, with about a dozen of his fellow practitioners attending the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“We wanted to express ourselves to clarify to the authorities who could help to resolve this issue.”
They arrived at 8 a.m. on April 25.
Practitioners attending the appeal had three requests: Release the practitioners in Tianjin, allow the publication of Falun Gong books (which had been banned since 1996), and allow practitioners the freedom to practice their faith without harassment.
Zhang and his fellow practitioners from the Chinese Academy of Sciences also wrote a letter to the authorities.
Some of the practitioners attending the rally were led into Zhongnanhai, the CCP’s headquarters, by a senior leader, and the letter was brought into the compound by a practitioner.
Zhang and his colleagues stood outside the offices waiting quietly until around 9 p.m., when the protesters were told the practitioners in Tianjin had been released.
“When facing tyranny, the Falun Gong practitioners appealed to express themselves in such a peaceful and rational way. It is a reflection of kindness, fearlessness, selflessness,” he said.
The event set a precedent in Chinese history—tens of thousands of people petitioning without violence and waiting patiently to be heard.
At first, the protesters thought it was a win for freedom of belief in China, until three months later when a brutal crackdown on the practice was initiated, resulting in thousands of deaths, torture, and forced organ harvesting.
“We found out that some of the government officials, along with their affiliates, were trying to use this as a way to bring benefits to their own political career,” Zhang said.
Zhang believes the persecution was initiated because the CCP felt threatened by the practice’s popularity.
“It’s paranoid that any large number of people together would pose a threat to its power,” he said.
He hoped the candlelight vigil would inspire people around the world “to bring out the courage to face the evil CCP regime.”