It was an unusually brave and selfless act for modern China: around 300 villagers signed their names to a petition, and stamped them with red wax, calling for the release of a fellow resident who had been persecuted for his beliefs by communist China’s security forces. The villagers were then themselves targeted, in what appeared to be an order coming down from Party Central to retaliate fiercely against anyone who dared to defend Falun Gong.
Wang Xiaodong, a teacher and practitioner of Falun Gong who resides in Zhouguantun Village, Hebei Province, was the object of his fellow villager’s sympathy. He was arrested from his home on Feb. 25 when 40 policemen ransacked his house, confiscated 20,000 yuan in cash and took him away.
After several fruitless attempts to rescue her brother, Wang’s sister, Wang Xiaomei, and others in the family invited villagers to sign a letter calling for Wang’s release. They quickly found 300 willing to do so, and had village cadres certify the document as genuine with an official stamp.
On April 10 and April 14, family members visited the local Public Security Bureau, but vice chief of the National Security team Gao Guiqi said the letter could not be accepted. The family then began passing out copies of the letter and flyers with Wang’s story on the streets.
Central Party security forces swung into action. The Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC), the powerful organ that oversees all law enforcement and the persecution of dissidents in China, has been persecuting Falun Gong through its “610 Office,” an extralegal agency, since 1999, under the orders of then-regime head Jiang Zemin. The PLAC ordered its branch in Hebei Province to put pressure on villagers; the petition had likely become an embarrassment for the PLAC by demonstrating the failure of the anti-Falun Gong campaign, which has come at considerable social and economic cost.
On April 23, close to a dozen Domestic Security officials visited the village Party Secretary in an attempt to find out who signed the petition and obtain the original copy. They arrested Wang Xiaomei; her child was subsequently forced to leave kindergarten.
The following day on April 24, domestic security chief Wang Wen and the village Party secretary Zhou Yinzhong summoned a dozen villagers who had signed the petition to a restaurant. They were asked to recant their previous stance while being video- and audio-recorded; this process was meant to intimidate them, according to other villagers. They were also asked to sign forms rejecting their previous statements, and those who agreed were treated to a banquet at the restaurant.
Officials from Fuzhen Town, Botou City, near the village, then joined in the harassment by forming four teams to find the other villagers who had signed the petition and make them recant.
By May 18 most of the work had been done, with the majority of the villagers who had signed the petition being asked to sign a piece of paper saying that their previous petition was only for sympathizing with Wang’s elderly mother and 7-year-old child, not for anything related to Falun Gong. Additionally, they had to sign a card denouncing Falun Gong, an apparent attempt to destroy the villager’s sympathy with persecuted adherents of the practice.
The chief of the PLAC, Zhou Yongkang, has a personal interest in maintaining the campaign against the practice. He has been sued overseas by Falun Gong practitioners, and was promoted to his current position by former Party chief Jiang Zemin, who first vowed to “eliminate” the practice in China. Since the persecution started in 1999, Zhou rose from head of Ministry of Land and Resources to head of public security, and then to the position of Party Secretary of the secretive and powerful PLAC, all within three years. The PLAC gained extraordinary powers under Jiang and Zhou, forming what political analysts describe as a “second center of power” within the Party.
Zhou’s status is now in question because of his association with Jiang and Bo Xilai, the former Politburo member who was recently purged and disgraced. Reports in the foreign press emerged recently saying that Zhou has been relieved of his security powers. Zhou is also the official ultimately responsible for the violent treatment of Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights lawyer who recently arrived in the United States after a dramatic escape to the American embassy from extralegal house arrest in his hometown.
Advocates for Falun Gong are regularly treated with brutality, according to the accounts of human rights lawyers and others. The most prominent case is probably that of Gao Zhisheng, who attempted to defend Falun Gong practitioners in court and subsequently wrote a series of open letters to the Party leadership denouncing the persecution and demanding that it stop. He has been in and out of detention since 2006 and is currently in jail. Communist Party security forces beat him for days, shocked him with electricity, and inserted toothpicks into his genitals as a form of torture.
Falun Gong is a spiritual practice based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance; it involves slow-motion physical exercises and meditation.
After Wang Xiaodong’s younger sister Wang Xiaomei was released from custody, on May 13 she wrote a letter calling for help from the international community: “I hope you can call on the Chinese government to arrange a meeting with me, the Chinese government, and international human rights organizations, so that the conditions I tried to explain to the authorities can be verified,” she wrote. “As a woman from rural China, I get on my knees to beg for your help!”
When Chongqing’s former top cop, Wang Lijun, fled for his life to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, he set in motion a political storm that has not subsided. The battle behind the scenes turns on what stance officials take toward the persecution of Falun Gong. The faction with bloody hands—the officials former CCP head Jiang Zemin promoted in order to carry out the persecution—is seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes and to continue the campaign. Other officials are refusing any longer to participate in the persecution. Events present a clear choice to the officials and citizens of China, as well as people around the world: either support or oppose the persecution of Falun Gong. History will record the choice each person makes.
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