The U.S. State Department is looking to increase the enforcement of immigration controls against human rights violators, in a move that could see Chinese officials involved in the persecution of Falun Gong being barred from the United States, according to a statement from a U.S. website that acts as a clearinghouse on the persecution of the spiritual practice.
The agency plans to increase its scrutiny of visa applications of foreign officials who have participated in severe violations of religious freedom, according to a May 31 news release by U.S. website Minghui.org. According to the release, these officials could have their immigration or non-immigration visas (such as tourist or business visas) rejected. Those who have already been issued visas could be blocked from entering the country, the notice said.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Section 212(a)(2)(G), any person, while serving as a foreign government official, who is responsible for or have directly carried out particularly severe violations of religious freedom at any time, are inadmissible for entry to the United States.
Particularly severe violations of religious freedom include systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom such as torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; prolonged detention without charges; causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.
An official from the State Department told various religious and faith-based groups about the intensified scrutiny. The official advised Falun Gong practitioners in the United States that they could submit a list of Chinese officials known to be involved in the persecution, the news release stated.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a traditional self-improvement discipline with meditation exercises based on the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The practice was introduced to the public in China in 1992 and quickly gained popularity, spreading from China to more than 80 countries.
According to a state survey, the practice reached over 70 million adherents by 1999—though practitioners estimated the number was over 100 million.
Fearing that its popularity would jeopardize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s rule, in July 1999, then-regime leader Jiang Zemin launched a nationwide persecution, in which practitioners are rounded up and sent to prisons, labor camps, and brainwashing centers—where they are often tortured in an attempt to coerce them into giving up their faith. The suppression continues today.
Lai Shantao, president of the Falun Dafa Association of Washington, D.C., confirmed to The Epoch Times that association representatives met with the State Department official earlier this year about the new action. The official told them the Trump administration is stepping up its enforcement of these laws, he said.
“This shows the U.S. government has entered a new phase in its concern for the persecution of people of faith worldwide, especially in relation to China—the most severe violator of religious freedom in the world,” Lai said.
He added that the development is a warning for officials involved in the persecution of Falun Gong in China, especially those who are thinking of visiting or fleeing to the United States.
“It sends them a message that you can’t persecute Falun Gong,” he said.
A spokesperson with the State Department, in an email to The Epoch Times, didn’t respond to questions seeking confirmation of the measures, but said that “the United States seeks to ensure that individuals who have violated human rights do not secure safe haven in the United States.”
“There are a number of potential ineligibility grounds applicable to U.S. visa applicants who have engaged in human rights violations or corruption, including ineligibilities for foreign government officials who have engaged in severe violations of religious freedom,” the spokesperson said.
Chinese Regime at War With Faith
Gary Bauer, commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told The Epoch Times on May 31 that he would welcome the U.S. administration’s steps in this direction.
“I certainly do not want to see the United States be a haven for those that have been implicated in persecution in other countries, in China or [elsewhere],” Bauer said. “My hope will be that anyone in the United States that [has] engaged in the persecution against people of faith in China will pay a suitable price in the United States for that persecution.”
An April report by the commission, an independent federal body that advises the U.S. government and Congress on religious freedom issues, highlighted that over the past year, the Chinese regime has ramped up its persecution of religious groups, including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghur Muslims, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists.
In 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a proclamation to suspend entry of serious human rights violators to the United States as immigrants or non-immigrants.
“Universal respect for human rights and humanitarian law and the prevention of atrocities internationally promotes U.S. values and fundamental U.S. interests,” the proclamation stated.
Earlier this year, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback delivered a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong calling on Beijing to end all forms of religious persecution in China.
“Chinese government is at war with faith. It is a war they will not win,” Brownback said on March 8.
This isn’t the first time a government concerned about the persecution of Falun Gong in China has made moves to bar Chinese officials from entering their country.
In 2017, a joint task force of Taiwanese government bodies denied entry to at least three CCP officials and members of their “professional exchange groups” because of their involvement with the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners inside China.
The joint task force further said that any CCP officials with ties to the “610 Office,” an extralegal Party organization created for the sole purpose of carrying out the persecution, wouldn’t be permitted entry to Taiwan in the future.
Jennifer Zeng and Frank Fang contributed to this report.