The U.S. government and international experts are calling on Beijing to ends its persecution of the spiritual practice Falun Gong, after a recent leaked document purportedly from Chinese authorities in a northeastern province revealed that efforts to suppress the group have intensified.
On Nov. 21, Bitter Winter, an English-language online magazine published by Italy-based nonprofit Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), made public a document from the Liaoning Province branch of the secret police force known as the 610 Office. It is an extralegal state police that was established by former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin in 1999 for the sole purpose of carrying out the persecution of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, also known as a Falun Dafa, is an ancient spiritual practice based on meditative exercises and moral teachings of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The group’s enormous popularity—official estimates place the number of adherents in China at 70 to 100 million by the late 1990s—was viewed by Jiang as a threat to his rule. On July 20, 1999, Jiang launched a country-wide persecution to round up practitioners and throw them into prisons, brainwashing centers, labor camps, and psychiatric wards—in an effort to force them to abandon their faith.
The 610 Office was granted full rein to operate above the law and at all levels of administration.
The leaked document from Liaoning Province called for “proactive attacks,” “high-pressure intimidation” and the establishment of “special task forces,” as key to an overall heightened effort to persecute the group.
That would include greater surveillance on Chinese social media, the document stated. Adherents’ social media accounts and chat groups would be monitored and censored, for the goal of stopping them from spreading messages about the spiritual exercise.
The document states that the intensified campaign was launched in October and will continue until December this year.
In an email interview with the Chinese-language The Epoch Times, Massimo Introvigne, editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter and founder of CESNUR, a nonprofit that promotes research in religious faiths and advocates for religious freedom explained how the leaked document revealed the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) tactics in persecuting Falun Gong.
“We should go out of the logic that the CCP persecutes some groups because they are ‘extremist’ or ‘potentially (or actually) violent.’ This is just Chinese propaganda,” wrote Introvigne, adding that the CCP “simply persecute groups that grow rapidly and are perceived as potentially threatening for the Communist Party’s cultural hegemony. Fake news about extremist teachings and violence are created later in order to justify the persecution.”
The Chinese regime has labeled Falun Gong and other minority faiths as “heretical sects” to vilify them and turn public opinion against the groups and their adherents.
Introvigne added, “Informing the international public opinion is very important. This is why we launched Bitter Winter and we also applaud the campaigns of The Epoch Times.”
Tina Mufford, deputy director of research and policy at the federal agency, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called the document alarming and troubling. “It is a signal that the international community needs to pay more attention to marginalized communities, like the Falun Gong, that are erroneously label as cults,” in a telephone interview with the Chinese-language The Epoch Times.
Mufford added, “It is so shocking because these are individuals who have done nothing wrong; they have broken no laws; they’ve committed no crimes; and yet, the Chinese authorities are targeting them and arresting them.”
The document also noted that anyone who contributes information to the U.S.-based Minghui.org, a website dedicated to documenting the persecution of Falun Gong in China, will be targeted by the 610 police.
The authorities will also step up the “knocking on doors” campaign, which was undertaken by local authorities across China to persecute the group beginning in March 2017, according to Minghui.org. This campaign involves teams of police visiting homes of adherents to probe whether they are still practicing the spiritual exercise.
Rosita Šorytė, president of the Italy-based International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees (ORLIR), a research group that studies and advocates for refugees escaping religious persecution, wrote that the alarming development shows that the “Chinese authorities are continuing their policy of persecution, torture and extermination rather then dialogue and mutual respect and understanding.” in an email interview with the Chinese-language The Epoch Times.
Liaoning, and multiple provinces in China’s northeastern region, have recently conducted large scale arrests of Falun Gong adherents.
On Nov. 12, 17 Falun Gong adherents in Dalian City in Liaoning, were arrested by local police as part of a coordinated operation. According to Minghui.org, three of the arrested were of the same family with the surname Chen, whose homes were also illegally ransacked by the police who took them away. One of the arrested has since been released, but the status of the other 16 are not known.
Just three days earlier, on Nov. 9, 119 Falun Gong adherents from the cities of Harbin and Daqing, in northern China’s Heilongjiang Province, were kidnapped by the police, according to Minghui.org.
One of the arrested was named Yang Tianjia, who was taken from his home at around 5 p.m. on Nov. 9. According to Minghui.org, the police convinced Yang to open the door after claiming that his house had a water leak.
Jin Xu was arrested at about 6:30 a.m on Nov. 9. According to Minghui.org, the police confiscated his three printers, one computer, about 4,000 yuan (about $574), and Falun Gong books.
On the eve of current Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. House of Representative Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, noted that the recent Heilongjiang kidnappings were evidence of the CCP’s ongoing persecution—“a black mark on recent Chinese history.”
The human rights abuses against Falun Gong adherents include being subject to forced organ harvesting, wrote Congressman Smith. He added, “I have urged President Trump to raise religious freedom issues with Xi Jinping, and asked that he discuss the massive persecution of Falun Gong and other religious communities as both a security issue and one that harms the Chinese economy.”
Investigations by the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC), a transplant ethics group consisting of medical doctors, lawyers, academics, and other researchers, have revealed that large numbers of Falun Gong adherents have been killed for their organs, which are used in China’s lucrative organ transplant industry.
According to incomplete data by Minghui.org, the ongoing persecution has resulted in at least
4,235 confirmed deaths of Falun Gong adherents as of November 2018. The true number is likely higher due to the difficulty of transmitting sensitive information out of China.
Other large-scale arrests recently reported by Minghui.org include eight arrested in Suihua City in Heilongjiang on Oct. 3; 20 arrested in Changchun, the capital of northeastern China’s Jilin Province on Oct. 12; and more than 7 arrested in Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan Province on Oct. 31.