WASHINGTON—For Frank Lee from New Jersey, trips to Washington, D.C., are a frequent thing. For the last four years, he has been working to inform his elected officials how people in China are persecuted for beliefs he practices freely in the United States.
“Everybody looks up to this country,” Lee said. “I hope they [U.S. officials] will support the cause that will help the whole world know about the people in China being persecuted.” Lee is referring to practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice in the Buddhist tradition that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
This weekend marks the 15th year since the persecution of Falun Gong began in China on July 20, 1999. To mark the anniversary, hundreds like Lee gathered on Thursday on the West Lawn of the Capitol for a rally calling for an end to the persecution. After the rally, the participants, led by a marching band, started off on a march through D.C.
After Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, was first publicly taught in China in 1992, it spread to over 70 countries. Only in China is the practice banned.
The Chinese Communist Party feared how many people had taken up Falun Gong and how its beliefs offered an alternative to the Party’s ideology.
According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, hundreds of thousands of practitioners are detained at any one time. Thousands are known to have died from persecution and abuse. Tens of thousands are believed to have been murdered when their organs were harvested and then sold to be used for transplantation.
The practitioners gathered in Washington, and others around the country, are pushing Congress to take action. Many have received positive feedback.
“That’s the great thing about America, you have the right to do that,” Lee said. “I would say the first step is to raise awareness, and then I think the rest is on them of how they want to proceed to speak up and stand up.”
“They’re leaders of society; in many ways they’re obligated to do this” Lee said of the federal lawmakers. “We elected them, they’re supposed to help with our concerns.”
“Anyone with a little bit of a conscience should stand up to say no to this brutal persecution, that’s how I see it,” Lee said.
Many of them have. Last year Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) introduced House Resolution 281, which calls on China to immediately stop the practice of organ harvesting. The resolution also calls for the U.S. government to condemn organ transplant abuses in China and to issue a travel warning to those traveling to China for transplant purposes.
At the rally, federal lawmakers, leaders of human rights organizations, and those who have experienced the persecution in China themselves, delivered remarks in front of the Capitol to help raise awareness.
“It is time that we finally put an end to the unjust treatment of these peaceful and tolerant individuals,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Upholding the Constitution
Sarah Woellhof from Kansas has made it a priority at this time of year to personally bring her representatives literature on the persecution that has persisted for 15 years.
“Freedom of religion [and] belief is very important in my eyes,” Woellhof said. “The Constitution was formed with freedom of religion.”
Some of her representatives have already signed onto Resolution 281, and Woellhof has scheduled meetings with the ones who have yet to do so.
“[It’s] important for citizens of the United States to know what’s going on in China,” Woellhof said. The belief in a representative government drew many like Woellhof to do the same.
“I’ve been visiting my congresspeople and representatives, senators, to encourage them to sign House Resolution 281, to stop the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and stop the forced organ harvesting,” said Trish Rhyne, who has been making these trips from North Carolina since 2003. “I did it all day yesterday.”
All three offices quickly responded, Rhyne said, and they are now moving forward with supporting Resolution 281.
Leon Lemmons from New York said it’s the effort of the masses coming to fruition. He and his wife reach out to their elected officials weekly, and this morning hopped on a bus at 3:30 a.m. to come to Washington, D.C.
“If you get a billion people knocking at your front door, sooner or later something will give,” Lemmons said. “This is the seat of the government … [and] we brought the message to their front door.”
Many of the rally participants shared stories of how much Falun Gong benefited them spiritually and physically. They said they wanted to show others the beauty of Falun Gong. Still, it is a solemn event.
“Every year we hope it’s the last year we come here,” said Frieda Kata, who traveled from New Jersey.
Every year for 14 years, Laura Market has traveled from Indiana to the nation’s capital to bring her elected officials and their staffers information on Falun Gong, the persecution, and the forced organ harvesting that continues.
“They make the decisions about our country, and they need to know why it’s being persecuted in China, and know about the organ harvesting that’s been going on,” Market said as she walked alongside the march with her young daughter from the Capitol as far as the Washington Monument, passing out fliers about Falun Gong.
“This is the 15th year we have been rallying in front of the Capitol to raise awareness and call for an end to the injustice,” said Tsuwei Hwang, a resident of Washington, D.C. for 25 years.
“We really want all the members of Congress to know what’s going on, because they represent the U.S. public, the people of the United States,” Hwang said. “They should also bring this message to their constituents, to let the people know what’s going on, and to ask them to support Resolution 281.”
Additional reporting by Brendon Fallon