U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Sept. 12 called on the Chinese regime to end the detention and “brutalization” of adherents who practice the spiritual discipline Falun Gong.
Twenty years after the Chinese regime launched a nationwide campaign to eradicate the practice, the persecution has continued on.
“The Chinese government should immediately cease its arbitrary detention and brutalization of Falun Gong practitioners and other religious and ethnic minorities,” Leahy said in a statement.
“It should release political prisoners from reeducation centers, decriminalize religious and spiritual practices, and allow international human rights groups and journalists to interview survivors. It should commit to ending the use of torture, organ harvesting of prisoners, and propaganda against minorities.”
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a traditional meditation practice originating in China with moral teachings based on truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. It was banned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1999 after rising in popularity earlier in the decade. Government estimates at the time found that 70 million to 100 million people were practicing the discipline.
“Because the Chinese Communist Party fears any organized religion or association it cannot control, it views this revival of traditional Chinese religion as a threat to its survival,” Leahy said.
July this year marked the 20th anniversary of the brutal persecution, the senior senator noted.
“On July 20, 1999, hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners were arrested in their homes in the middle of the night. Over the following week, as many as 50,000 Falun Gong were reportedly detained,” he said.
In the years since, the regime’s suppression of Falun Gong adherents has been “relentless,” the statement read.
“Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested, interred at reeducation camps, beaten, sleep-deprived, starved, sexually assaulted, electrocuted, force-fed, shackled, and had their limbs slowly broken, until they have renounced their beliefs and practices,” Leahy said. These details have been documented by international human rights groups as well as Falun Gong adherents who have survived their detention and recounted their experiences.
According to estimates by independent researcher Ethan Gutmann, between a half-million and a million practitioners are held in various detention facilities around the country at any given time.
To date, 4,136 Falun Gong adherents are verified to have died while in police or state custody, according to Minghui.org, a U.S.-based website that serves as a clearinghouse on the persecution. However the actual number is likely to be much higher due to difficulty of obtaining and verifying such information in China.
“They have had their organs harvested against their will. They have been murdered,” Leahy added, referring to China’s state-sanctioned practice of extracting organs from prisoners of conscience to conduct for-profit transplant surgery.
In June, an independent people’s tribunal in London concluded that there was clear evidence of forced organ harvesting having taken place in China for years “on a significant scale,” with Falun Gong adherents being the main source of organs.
“We will probably never know how many innocent people have been the victims of these atrocities, since the Chinese government denies to the outside world that it is happening, while justifying it to their own citizens,” the statement read.
U.S. officials and lawmakers have increasingly called attention to the Chinese regime’s egregious violations of religious liberty. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at the release of the state department’s annual report on global religious freedom in June, called out the CCP for its “extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding.”
“The party demands that it alone be called God,” he said at the time.
Leahy, the Senate’s most senior member having held office for 44 years, said that the stories he has heard from survivors of religious persecution perpetrated by the Chinese regime, as well as victims’ family members, “continue to shock [him].”
“The Falun Gong deserve to be remembered, and they deserve the international community’s collective action,” he said.