NEW YORK—On July 16, hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners from the greater New York area gathered near the Chinese Consulate in New York for a rally and candlelight vigil to mark 18 years since the Chinese regime launched a brutal persecution campaign against their spiritual community.
The rally featured Falun Gong spokespeople, practitioners who had endured severe persecution in China, members of human rights NGOs, and seven Chinese citizens who had just quit the Chinese Communist Party and its affiliated organizations.
“We are here gathered in front of the Chinese Consulate in New York to call on the international community to help end this persecution and expose this crime against humanity that’s been going on for 18 years,” said Erping Zhang, a Falun Gong spokesperson, in an interview.
“Over the past 18 years, numerous Falun Gong practitioners have lost their homes, jobs, even their lives,” Zhang continued. “Worse still, there is the horrific crime of organ harvesting against these prisoners of conscience.” Principal researchers of forced organ harvesting in China estimate that the Chinese communist regime has killed large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners for their organs from 2000 to 2015 to fuel a lucrative transplant industry, according to a 2016 report.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, was first introduced to the Chinese public in 1992 by Mr. Li Hongzhi. Inspired and uplifted by the practice’s moral principles and tranquil exercises, 70 to 100 million people in China had taken up the practice by 1999, according to state and practitioner estimates.
Among them was Li Dianqin, a native of Liaoning Province in northeastern China. Li was practically on her deathbed when she first learned of Falun Gong in 1995—she had a massive liver tumor and intestinal adhesions that caused constant, excruciating pain in her abdomen.
After practicing Falun Gong, however, Li slowly overcame not only her illness, which doctors deemed incurable, but also gained the mental strength to weather the Chinese regime’s persecution.
In March 2000, Li was detained at a brainwashing center in a Shenyang City mental hospital where she was bombarded day and night with hate propaganda against Falun Gong.
Three months later, Li was thrown into Masanjia Forced Labor Camp, a detention facility notorious for its horrific treatment of female Falun Gong practitioners. Masanjia guards were known for shocking women practitioners’ genitalia with electric batons, as well as for stripping practitioners naked and locking them up in the cells of male prisoners to be gang raped.
Li, now 66, came to the United States last July. At the rally in New York, however, Li and other Falun Gong practitioners continue to be targeted by the Chinese regime.
Around 50 Chinese people dressed in red shirts with pro-communist slogans and hats had gathered on the opposite side of the street from the Falun Gong rally. They shouted anti-Falun Gong slogans into loudspeakers and waved the Chinese regime’s red flags.
Collin Ding, a 17-year-old high schooler, said he attended the event to peacefully protest the continued persecution of his beliefs.
“As Falun Dafa practitioners, we cultivate ourselves based on the standard of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance,” Ding said.
Ding said that Falun Gong’s principles help him to self-reflect and improve himself when faced with adversity rather than harbor resentment towards others.
“There will always be some people around you who are nice to you and some who are mean to you,” he said. “But even if people are mean to you, you should be genuine towards them.”
Cristina Oz, 32, learned of Falun Gong in late May of this year after coming across practitioners doing the slow-moving exercises in Madison Square Park in downtown Manhattan.
“It was like finally coming home after a long journey,” Oz said. “I’d been looking for this all my life.”
And coming from Romania, which was formerly under the control of a Soviet-backed dictatorship, Oz was familiar with how communist regimes trample spiritual practices. “A lot of people were killed, a lot of people were persecuted” by the former communist regime in Romania, she said.
“That’s why I relate so much to China because I feel and understand it very well,” Oz said. “Communism destroys people’s origins, people’s values.”
The Chinese people must learn the truth of the Chinese regime and see through the communist propaganda, said Falun Gong practitioner Li Dianqin.
“It requires our realization” of the Chinese regime’s repressive tendencies, Li said. And when the world’s people come to the same realization, the “Chinese regime will thoroughly disintegrate,” she added.