NEW YORK—When the Chinese regime began persecuting Falun Gong in 1999, Bill Clinton was president of the United States and Jiang Zemin was head of the Chinese regime.
The following year, when world leaders convened in New York for the United Nations Millennium Summit, Falun Gong practitioners held their first protest on Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza opposite the United Nations headquarters.
Over the course of the years, leaders changed. Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin made way for George W. Bush and Hu Jintao. And today, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping lead the two powerful nations.
For 14 years, as the persecution of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice, raged in China, the protests at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza were held each year.
And they won’t stop until the persecution ceases, said Jian Min Wang, a Falun Gong practitioner who arrived in the United States three months ago and attended this year’s protest.
Wang began practicing Falun Gong in 1994, when the practice was thriving in China and supported by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership. Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a traditional Chinese exercise and meditation practice. The CCP banned Falun Gong in 1999 and continues to persecute those who follow it to this day.
On Sept. 25, dozens of people in yellow shirts meditated to calm music on the western end of the plaza while a few passed out pamphlets to passers-by. On the eastern end, Wang, 43, Yan Li, 45, and many others held large banners denouncing the regime and demanding an end to the persecution.
Standing Up to False Information
When the persecution started, many of the people who practiced Falun Gong outside of China were baffled by the blatant slander coming from the regime’s media outlets. Falun Gong was demonized and a steady stream of state-sanctioned propaganda spread all over the world, often repeated by media outside China.
Unsure of what to do, Falun Gong practitioners went to Washington, D.C., the U.N., and other seats of power. The first major protest held at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza was on Sept. 8, 2000, during the U.N. Millennium Summit. Practitioners from some 30 countries streamed into the plaza wearing yellow T-shirts bearing the words “China: Stop Persecuting Falun Gong.”
Sophia Bronwen, from Vancouver, Canada, said she went to the United Nations in New York in 2000 to “stand up for the practitioners who were persecuted so terribly.” She added that it was many practitioners’ hope at that time that their presence there would “make a difference.”
At the time, the primary goal was to undo the damage done by the slander from China’s state-run media by explaining the facts about Falun Gong and the persecution to the world’s leaders and anyone who happened to pass by. Now the dignitaries mostly know about Falun Gong, and practitioners continue to peacefully protest.
“I hope that all the people with consciences will say no to this atrocity,” Wang, who spent more than five years in a prison for practicing Falun Gong, said. “This is a crime against humanity.”
During his time in prison, Wang was tortured brutally. On one occasion he was tied to two beds that were gradually forced apart over the course of eight days to stretch his body. Many practitioners died when tortured this way as their ligaments tore, bones snapped, and internal organs hemorrhaged.
Hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners are in prisons, labor camps, and brainwashing centers at any given time, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center. Brutal torture is systematic. The Falun Gong website Minghui.org can confirm over 3,700 deaths from torture to date, but the actual number is believed to be far higher. Minghui is a news website run by Falun Gong practitioners that receives firsthand reports from mainland China.
Over the course of more than a decade, the torture and killing of Falun Gong practitioners has been documented by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Chinese human rights lawyers, and Western media. But the persecution still continues and the scale and intensity are astonishing.
A Regime That Sells Human Organs
“The CCP is evil,” Wang said. “They do things you can’t even imagine.”
The unimaginable is true when it comes to the persecution of Falun Gong: numerous reports and books have exposed the Chinese regime’s practice of harvesting organs from living prisoners, a vast majority of them Falun Gong practitioners.
Two independent studies published in “State Organs: Transplant Abuse in China” estimate the number of transplants, which are unaccounted for in China in the tens of thousands. Both studies concluded, using different types of evidence, that the crime is real.
Wang recalled how the head of an inmate gang told several people that a practitioner had been killed for his organs. Wang made it out alive, but three practitioners he shared a cell with did not.
“When practitioners are about to be used for organ harvesting their prison cells are sealed off. No one can know. They cut off all information flow,” Wang said.
Where Wang stood on Wednesday, many have stood year after year. As the persecution progressed and more reports from China emerged, new banners were added, and new atrocities were exposed at the rallies and press conferences on the plaza.
A History of Protests
After the first protest at the U.N. in 2000, Falun Gong practitioners returned again in 2001 and every year after.
In 2001, the protests intensified. In August that year Falun Gong practitioners launched hunger strikes in support of 130 practitioners who went on a hunger strike at the Masanjia Labor Camp to protest their sentences being extended. Masanjia is notorious for extreme torture methods employed in attempts to force practitioners to give up their beliefs. In October 2000, guards stripped naked 18 female practitioners and threw them into prison cells with male convicts.
As reports of the incidents surfaced outside China, practitioners all over the world joined in the hunger strike. Six Falun Gong practitioners from Washington, D.C., went on a hunger strike in late October and drove to the U.N. headquarters on Sept. 5 to deliver a letter to then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
In 2003, the head of the Chinese regime, Jiang Zemin, was sued for crimes against humanity in the United States, Belgium, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Germany. New banners were added to the U.N. protests at the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza that year stating: “Bring Jiang Zemin to Justice.”
In 2006, the Epoch Times published a series of articles exposing the Chinese regime’s large-scale organ harvesting operations. The shocking news spread throughout the world and was decried in rally speeches.
The plaza opposite the U.N. has been a stage for Falun Gong protests for 14 years. What’s happened there during every U.N. summit for 14 years has happened outside Chinese consulates the world over, at U.N. sessions in Geneva, and a huge number of other locales.
According to the latest reports, the Chinese regime is shutting down some labor camps, including Masanjia, but the abductions, torture, and killing continue unabated, according to reports from Minghui.org. There have been 43 reported deaths in the first six months of 2013.
“While the data shows the persecution is still the most severe in northeastern China, it is important to remember that no Falun Gong practitioner in any part of the country is safe,” said Levi Browde, director of the Falun Dafa Information Center. “We continue to see torture and deaths from abuse across China.”