During the visit to Poland June 19-21 of Chinese Communist leader Xi Jinping, many Polish people proved that they will not remain silent or indifferent in the face of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
Before Xi’s visit, a group of former activists of the anti-communist opposition together with concerned journalists and scientists published an open letter to the Polish president and the Polish Prime Minister requesting them to raise the issue of human rights in China. Their letter says:
“The prosecuted Chinese people—the groups engaged in building civil society, the Christians, the lawyers, the journalists, Falun Gong practitioners, minorities (Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians) and many others—need your, Mr. President, Madam Prime Minister and Polish people’s, support. In the spirit of Solidarity, we should speak out on behalf of the persecuted in China.”
Those who signed the letter believe that while the economic relations between Poland and China should be continued and strengthened, the country’s partners should share the values upheld by Poland, such as human rights and justice.
A group of Polish people who practice or support the spiritual practice Falun Gong decided to send a message to Xi Jinping. Xi’s predecessor Jiang Zemin launched a campaign of persecution aimed at eradicating Falun Gong, and the Polish practitioners of Falun Gong asked Xi to end that persecution. Instead of protesting directly against Xi Jinping, they also called on him to bring Jiang Zemin to justice. They gathered on Xi Jinping’s routes to various places in Warsaw and displayed banners with their peaceful messages.
Police Face a Challenge
This type of action has been taken by many Falun Gong practitioners in many countries visited by Chinese officials, but such peaceful protests often meet with violent actions initiated by groups supporting the Chinese Communist party or organized welcome groups.
Such acts took place in Washington, D.C., on March 30 this year when Xi Jinping came to attend the Nuclear Security Summit and for a one-on-one meeting with President Obama. The practitioners’ banners calling on Xi Jinping to bring his predecessor to justice for persecuting Falun Gong were forcefully covered by big red flags of the PRC and a big American flag, wielded by welcome groups brought in by the Chinese regime.
Xi Jinping arrived in Poland on June 19, just after completing his visit to Serbia. The Serbian authorities however banned all gatherings by Serbian followers of Falun Gong during his visit. As reported by Balkan Insight the ban was introduced due to a possibility of a conflict between PRC nationals and Falun Gong practitioners. This, despite the fact that Falun Gong practitioners had only planned to practice meditation publicly and to peacefully appeal to the PRC Chairman to stop the persecution of Falun Gong.
Unlike Serbia, the Polish authorities took the challenge posed by the groups loyal to the Chinese regime, and Polish Falun Gong supporters were able display their banners expressing their view that Falun Gong is good and calling on Xi Jinping to bring Jian Zemin to justice and to stop the persecution of Falun Gong. The Polish police used peaceful and tactful means to separate PRC welcome groups and Communist party supporters from the Falun Gong practitioner’s group and to prevent the PRC groups from covering or taking down the Falun Gong banners.
Tomasz Kowalski, a Falun Gong practitioner from Poland protested in many places in Warsaw by holding banners during the Chinese delegation visit. He said that the PRC groups made many attempts to cover the banners held by practitioners, but most were thwarted by the police.
According to Kowalski any time Polish practitioners came to a place where the Chinese delegation was going to arrive, there were already a numerous Chinese there dressed in red with huge red Chinese flags and huge Polish flags trying to cover the banners of the Falun Gong protesters. Kowalski said that the police used their cars and watched the Chinese groups in order to prevent them from moving to the area where Falun Gong practitioners held their banners. The Chinese were rather disobedient and tried everything to carry out their unlawful acts, Kowalski said.
The police in most cases reacted immediately to even the slightest possibility of a confrontation and effectively prevented it. They also escorted practitioners to their cars after events if they had to pass by the PRC welcome groups boarding their buses. As a result, the police ensured the overall security during the visit of the Chinese delegation and the practitioner’s safety.
As Kowalski explained, the police in Warsaw are actually familiar with Falun Gong, as practitioners gather every Sunday morning in front of the Chinese embassy to protest the persecution. They practice Falun Gong exercises and display posters raising awareness about the persecution or pictures of those who lost their lives due to the persecution. There was never any incident due to these peaceful protests held on Sundays.
There were however a few situations during Xi’s visit where the Falun Gong banners were covered by huge flags.
One such incident occurred in front of the Sheraton Hotel in the center of Warsaw on June 20. As reported in a video made by Polish Falun Gong practitioner Marcin Hakemer-Fernandez and posted on Facebook, the Chinese used this time a huge Polish flag to block the view of the Falun Gong banners. In the eyes of Poles such act is considered to be a desecration of the Polish national flag. After the incident the police took action preventing the numerous Chinese from blocking Falun Gong banners, but the Polish flag had already been desecrated.
Another case of desecrating the Polish flag occurred also on June 20 in the evening at the Castle Square in the Warsaw’s Old Town. Dorota Pasternakiewicz, a Polish Falun Gong practitioner, was walking on the Square with a small folded banner awaiting the arrival of the Chinese delegation. As Pasternakiewicz stated, there were a lot of Chinese—probably between 700-1000—dressed in red with huge Chinese and Polish flags.
When the Chinese delegation arrived Pasternakiewicz unfurled her small yellow banner saying “Falun Dafa is Good.” Here is what happened at that moment in Pasternakiewicz’s own words: “Dressed in red Chinese people who were on the Square started screaming something and a few of them ran toward me with … a gigantic Chinese flag, to cover me, but it was too late. The diplomatic cortege has already left, and they saw my banner from close range. On the other side I was surrounded by the police and they escorted me to a place on the Castle Square where a police vehicle was parked. They started recording my identity information. During that time two Chinese with a gigantic and please note (!) Polish flag stood in front of us covering us from [being seen] by passers-by. During the entire time I was holding my unfurled banner, trying to direct it to the place where I was covered with the flag and explained to passers-by what was going on—a few people recorded it and took pictures. The police tried to force a woman to not record [the incident] but she stated that she was from media and will record everything whatever the Polish police does as well as the covering of us with the Polish flag.”
Pasternakiewicz said after the police finished recording her identity she and a few other Falun Gong practitioners stood at the middle of the Square holding banners. The police stood around them trying to separate them from numerous Chinese for her and her friends’ safety, as the police stated. However, the Polish flag had already been desecrated.
The Chinese “welcome groups” also tried to cover the banners of other activists protesting on the Castle Square on that day. There was a group of animal rights activists holding banners against killing dogs during the Chinese festival in China called Yulin. Their banners were also covered by gigantic flags held by the Chinese.
Covering banners in this way is actually a violation of the Polish constitution, which guarantees its citizens the freedom of speech and assembly.