The Chinese Communist regime has significantly weakened, if not abolished, the power of one of its most deadly and notorious agencies: the “610 Office,” an extra-legal party organization similar to the Nazis’ Gestapo.
The move was part of a broad set of structural reforms that were passed during the Party’s recent rubber-stamp parliament sessions.
The 610 Office was established by former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin on June 10, 1999—hence its name—for the sole purpose of carrying out the persecution of Falun Gong, a meditation practice with moral teachings based three principles: truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Under the notion that the group’s popularity would undermine the Party’s authority, Jiang mobilized the state’s security and propaganda apparatuses to arrest and detain Falun Gong adherents, while slandering the practice to turn public opinion against Falun Gong.
Functioning without approval from the Party’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, or the 25-member Politburo made up of Party elites, the 610 office has never had a legal basis for its existence.
Yet, under the leadership of the 610 Office, Falun Gong practitioners have been arbitrarily sentenced to labor camps, prison, or brainwashing centers. Thousands have been tortured to death or disability since 1999, according to the U.S.-based research nonprofit, the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong. The 610 office is also involved in state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience, resulting in large numbers of unexplained deaths. Most of them are Falun Gong practitioners, according to researchers.
The 610 Office derived authority from its connection with the Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC). The first two heads of the 610 Office, Luo Gan and Zhou Yongkang, also headed the PLAC.
Previously, the regional directors of the 610 Office at the provincial and municipal levels were also the secretaries or deputy secretaries of the provincial or municipal PLAC. Under that arrangement, the 610 Office could dispatch all elements of China’s security apparatus—the public security (police), state security, judicial, and prosecutorial systems—to persecute Falun Gong practitioners.
Former 610 Office official Hao Fengjun had previously disclosed that most members of the agency, estimated at about 15,000 staff, are also members of the PLAC.
On March 21, the Party published a document announcing its reforms, including merging three security forces dedicated to suppressing dissents and subsuming them under the PLAC. One of them is the “Central Office for Guarding Against and Handling Heretical Religion Issues,” also known as the 610 Office. The other two offices that were dissolved are the “Central Public Security Comprehensive Management Commission” and “Central Stability Maintenance Work Office.”
Under the new arrangement, the duties of the 610 Office are now being relegated to the PLAC and the Ministry of Public Security instead. While the document did not outright state that the 610 Office was abolished—something that was explicitly stated for the other two security forces—many observers believe the proposal implies such. However, the PLAC and Ministry of Public Security will likely still carry out the persecution of Falun Gong, an anonymous legal scholar in China told The Epoch Times.
The new policy continues efforts by current Party leader Xi Jinping to weaken the PLAC and the 610 Office. When Xi came to power in 2012, he removed the PLAC secretary from the Politburo Standing Committee—the Party’s most powerful decision-making body, significantly shrinking its authority.
Later, former heads of the 610 system, including former PLAC secretary Zhou Yongkang, his top aide, Zhou Benshun, and former 610 Office director Li Dongsheng, were purged from the Party and sentenced to prison.
Xi’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign has purged many officials loyal to former leader Jiang—an opposition faction. Those officials had shown their political allegiance to Jiang by participating in his persecution of Falun Gong.
As of August 2016, 15.1 percent of 610 officials had been investigated, indicted, sentenced, disciplined, or purged, according to Minghui.org, a U.S.-based website that serves as a clearinghouse for information about the persecution of Falun Gong in China.
Xin Ziling, former president of the state-affiliated Chinese Military Academy Press, disclosed that the Xi leadership has been trying to eliminate the 610 Office.
“The 610 Office is something awkward,” he told independent Chinese broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television in a telephone interview. “It is neither a government organization, nor does it serve in any legal capacity. When Jiang Zemin failed to pass a proposal to suppress Falun Gong through the central authorities, he held a meeting of high-level cadres, gathered all his supporters, and set up such an organization.”
Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng wrote in his open letter to Party leaders in 2005: “The 610 Office is a criminal organization that surpasses the power of the regime itself. It can manipulate and control all political resources of the regime, exerting a kind of power that not even a constitution or nation can grant.”