WASHINGTON—Despite the stuffy summer humidity, around 2,000 people donning yellow shirts congregated at Capitol Hill on July 18 to call for an end to the persecution of the spiritual practice Falun Gong in China.
July 20 marks 20 years since the Chinese Communist regime launched its sweeping campaign to eradicate Falun Gong, an ancient Chinese meditation practice. At the time, official estimates placed the number of adherents at 70 million to 100 million.
Since then, waves of Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to prisons, labor camps, brainwashing centers, and other detention facilities, where many have been tortured in an effort to force them to renounce their faith. At any given time, hundreds of thousands of adherents are being incarcerated, according to estimates by the Falun Dafa Information Center.
Every year since 2000, practitioners from across the country and around the world have gathered at the nation’s capital to commemorate the anniversary of the persecution.
“I have to ask myself, how many years is enough?” said Alan Adler, executive director of Friends of Falun Gong and host of the rally held on the West Lawn of Capitol Hill on Thursday. “Enough time for the world’s people to shake their disbelief, to get past their shock and horror, and actually do something about it? How many years of terror and cruelty is enough?”
U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) also spoke at the rally, condemning the Chinese regime for launching a “truly barbaric” persecution.
“Wrongful imprisonment, re-education—brainwashing, really—torture, and forced organ harvesting are the tools they use to stifle [Falun Gong practitioners],” Chabot said.
“Such tactics have no place in a civilized society, yet they are commonplace in Communist China.”
Chabot pledged that as long as he is in office, he would fight for the rights of Falun Gong practitioners to freely practice in China.
Benedict Rogers, UK rights activist and East Asia Team Leader at nonprofit Christian Solidarity Worldwide, called for an end to forced organ harvesting from imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners in China.
In 2006 The Epoch Times broke the story of how the Chinese regime was killing prisoners of conscience, mostly Falun Gong adherents, by harvesting their organs for transplant surgeries. These allegations were confirmed by independent investigators in a report issued in 2006, followed by subsequent reports, including an in-depth 2016 report, that provided a more detailed picture of widespread abuse.
Last month, an independent tribunal concluded after a year-long investigation that forced organ harvesting has taken place in China for years “on a significant scale.” The tribunal judgment added that Falun Gong practitioners were likely the main source of such organs.
Rogers urged governments around the world to take the tribunal’s findings seriously.
“It is time to stand up to the criminal state of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Chabot and Rogers were joined by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Gayle Manchin of the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, Annie Boyajian of Freedom House, Marian Smith of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, Faith McDonnell of Religious Liberty Programs, Matias Perttula of International Christian Concern, Wendy Wright of Christian Freedom International, Peggy Nienaber of Faith and Liberty, Linda Lagemann of Citizens Commission on Human Rights, Dede Laugesen of Save the Persecuted Christians, Suzanne Scholte of Defense Forum Foundation, Rabbi David Saperstein of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rong Yi of The Tuidang Center, Chinese commentator Youqin Wang, and Wang Zhiyuan of World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong.
Rally speakers also pointed to growing public attention on the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses, driven in part by the Trump administration’s efforts.
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, speaking at the release of the department’s annual report on global religious freedom in June, called out the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for its “extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding.”
Pompeo also warned governments that persecute religious believers, saying they should not be able to get away with such actions without consequences.
At the same event, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback called on all countries to condemn what China is doing in its “war on faith,” and said “there is no more important a time for the United States to promote religious freedom than now.”
Over the past three days, the U.S. Department of State has hosted the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, the largest gathering of its kind in the world.
President Donald Trump on July 17 met with a Falun Gong practitioner who was imprisoned and tortured in China, along with 26 other survivors of religious persecution from 17 countries. The meeting was held to reaffirm the administration’s commitment to religious liberty, the White House said in a statement.
With long, colorful banners in hand, practitioners lined up in neat rows marching from Capitol Hill towards the Washington Monument, where a vigil is scheduled for the evening.
Wang Shaohua, a U.S.-based practitioner originally from mainland China, said that she wanted to be here for all those practitioners in China who don’t get a chance to raise their voices.
“Whether we are inside mainland China or overseas, we are all part of one body,” Wang said.
Wang endured torture while detained at a labor camp in China in 2011. After she was released, she managed to flee to the United States in 2013.
She said that life inside the labor camp was like “a life and death situation every day.”
The first thing that guards asked her every day was whether she would give up her faith. If she refused, the guards would deprive her of sleep.
In retaliation for her “stubbornness,” the guards made her sit motionless on a low plastic stool from morning to night. She slept an average of two hours a day for seven months.
“Every second there felt like a year in the outside world,” Wang said. “They said they wanted to destroy us physically. That was exactly what happened.”
Being here in America filled Wang with gratitude and hope.
“It’s the continuance of a [new] life.”