15,235 Falun Gong Practitioners Targeted for Their Faith in 2020

A Minghui report

While China was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, its ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has continued its persecution of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline also known as Falun Dafa that is based on the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance.

Pandemic Didn’t Stop the CCP from Persecuting Falun Gong

According to information collected by Minghui.org, 6,659 practitioners were arrested and 8,576 were harassed in 2020. While the number of arrests remained similar to that of 6,109 the year before, 2020 saw a 2.4-fold increase in harassment cases compared to that of 3,582 in 2019.

Among the total 15,235 practitioners that were targeted in 2020, 3,588 had their homes ransacked and 537 were taken to brainwashing centers.

There were also 622 practitioners sentenced to prison for their faith (some of whom were part of the 6,659 arrested in 2020) and another 83 persecuted to death in 2020, both of which have been covered in detail in separate reports.

Due to the nationwide lockdown after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, January 2020 reported the fewest incidents of persecution. Over the next few months, however, the incidents of persecution steadily increased, with a small peak in April and a bigger peak in July.

The April and July peaks have been a trend over the years, as the authorities often intensify the suppression around two sensitive dates – April 25 and July 20. About 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners staged a peaceful sit-in appeal outside of the National Appeals Office in Beijing on April 25, 1999, and the CCP formally started the persecution of Falun Gong less than three months later, on July 20.

During the lockdown in the first half of 2020, many practitioners were targeted for stepping up their efforts to expose how the CCP has been using similar cover-up tactics used in the persecution to handle the coronavirus outbreak.

One woman in Hunan Province was forced to live away from home after the authorities found out that she had put up posters with QR codes that could connect to overseas websites with uncensored information about the pandemic. A physician in Ningxia Province was arrested twice, first in March and then in June, for handing out informational materials. Even a nine-year-old girl in Hubei Province wasn’t spared harassment after the police caught her putting up information in her neighborhood.

The Massive “Zero-out” Harassment Campaign

Entering the second half of the year, harassment cases began to outnumber the arrests, due to the nationwide “Zero-out” campaign. Similar to the “knocking on the door” harassment campaign in 2017 and the so-called gang cracking down campaign in 2018 that targeted the practitioners for their faith, the authorities visited every practitioner on the government’s blacklist and attempted to force them to renounce Falun Gong in the new “Zero-out” campaign.

The earliest harassment cases in the “Zero-out” effort that has swept the country were recorded in March 2020 in Guizhou Province. It was reported that the Political and Legal Affairs Committee (PLAC) in Guizhou issued an order to completely “transform” all practitioners between 2020 and 2023. Their order was based on a document (No. 101) released by the central PLAC in Beijing, titled “On the Issue of Reducing the Number of Falun Gong Practitioners.”

In the persecution of Falun Gong, the PLAC—an extra-judiciary agency that oversees state security, the procuratorate and court system—has played a central role in mediating persecution policy.

The local 610 Office and the PLAC, both tasked with overseeing the persecution, ordered local community officials and police to pressure the practitioners into submission. When challenged, the authorities put the practitioners in brainwashing centers and threatened their family members with the loss of their jobs if they didn’t talk the practitioners into giving up their practice. In Guangdong and Hainan Provinces, the authorities posted 100,000-yuan rewards for reporting a Falun Gong practitioner.

Some police officers harassed the practitioners’ family members and threatened to deny their children a college education in order to turn them against the practitioners.

The harassment further intensified in the last two months of 2020. While an average of 706 incidents per month were reported between March and October, that nearly doubled in November and December, at 1,285 and 1,358, respectively. It also resulted in more practitioners being taken to brainwashing centers in November and December, with the monthly average jumping from 40 in March and October to 110 in the last two months of the year.

The cases of harassment in November and December 2020 represented 5- and 6.7 fold increases over 2019.

The All-around Persecution

Incidents of persecution in 2020 took place in 304 cities in 29 provinces and centrally-controlled municipalities. Hebei topped the list with the most practitioners (2,373) targets, followed by Heilongjiang, Shandong, Jilin, Sichuan, and Liaoning. The seventh province Hubei, the epicenter of the pandemic, recorded a total of 589 cases. Eighteen other provinces also registered triple-digit persecution cases (from 105 to 480). The remaining four provinces reported between 4 and 87 incidents.

2020 also saw more elderly practitioners being targeted. The 1,188 (7.8%) practitioners older than 65 arrested or harassed in 2020 was double that of 583 in 2019. In the 70 to 80 age group, 419 practitioners were arrested in 2020. Seventeen were in their 90s, with the oldest being 94.

In 2020, many arrested practitioners were brutally tortured and at least six died as a result. One woman died in police custody four days after her arrest on May 13. Another woman died hours after she was arrested on June 18. Two more female practitioners were beaten to death days after their arrests in late June.

Once imprisoned for 11 years, one male practitioner died a month and a half after his arrest in August. Another male practitioner died in October from being tortured in custody, two months after he was seized in a group arrest.

The 15,235 targeted practitioners came from all walks of life, including 320 professionals, such as college professors, high school teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, artists, journalists, interpreters, authors, and dancers.

A 25-year-old photographer who had just taken up Falun Gong not long ago was arrested for distributing Falun Gong flyers. A 77-year-old woman was arrested after being recorded on a bus for talking to people about Falun Gong. Others were arrested for studying the Falun Gong teachings together.

Other than harassment, there were dozens of groups arrests reported throughout the year, including 18 practitioners in Jieyang City, Guangdong Province, arrested on June 14; over 10 practitioners in Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province, arrested on July 26; 21 practitioners in Changsha City, Hunan Province, arrested on October 27; and over 80 practitioners in Hegang City, Heilongjiang Province, arrested between December 11 and 13.

Notably, three of the practitioners arrested in Xi’an on July 26 were in their 80s, four were in their late 70s, and one was around 60.

A large family in Kunming City, Yunnan Province was arrested twice in seven days around the Mid-Autumn Festival on October 1, which is a traditional holiday for family reunions.

In addition to the arrests and torture in custody, many practitioners had their day-to-day lives disrupted, as well as personal safety, business, and health compromised.

One engineer fired from his job due to his faith was denied housing and forced into displacement shortly after he was released from a two-year term. A retired physician is still detained in custody even though she has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

In some cases, it’s not only the practitioners themselves that were targeted for their faith, but their family members, who were also harassed, arrested, and interrogated. One practitioner’s four-year-old grandson was denied admission to kindergarten because she refused to renounce Falun Gong.

One woman’s son was held hostage in the police station after she escaped arrest and another practitioner’s son’s clinic was forcibly shut down after she refused to sign a statement to renounce Falun Gong.

Having grown up witnessing the persecution of his parents, a young man was devastated to lose his father due to the persecution, following his latest arrest with his mother. Now the young man is seeking justice for his mother, who has remained in custody since and faces prison time.

Some practitioners have suffered decade-long incarceration and torture before being targeted for their faith again. A woman in Yinchuan City, Ningxia Province, was arrested again after having been detained for 13 years. Another man in Hegang City, Heilongjiang Province, who has spent 15 years in detention, was arrested in a police sweep in mid-December.

Financial Persecution

A total of 7,284,097.56 yuan was extorted or confiscated from 401 practitioners during their arrests, averaging 18,165 yuan per person. Another 161 practitioners had their pensions suspended in 2020. Most of them were forced to pay back pensions that they had received during their imprisonment because of their faith, even though neither the Labor Law nor the Social Insurance Law of China stipulates that pensions should be suspended while serving a sentence.

When an injured Ms. Zhang Wenqing returned home in June after serving four years in prison for her faith in Falun Gong, the Fushun City, Liaoning Province resident was devastated to learn that her father had passed away a year before. She was dealt another heavy blow when she discovered that her 27 years of service had been cleared by her employer, resulting in no pension benefits. Now the 52-year-old former music teacher, who lives with her mother in her 80s, is facing tremendous financial difficulty to make ends meet.

Mr. Ren Haifei of Dalian City, Liaoning Province, had 500,000 yuan in cash and computer supplies worth more than 200,000 yuan confiscated from him during his arrest on June 26. He developed heart and kidney failure after being abused in custody.

Ms. Zhao Xiqing, 85, from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, was arrested at home on July 14. The police ransacked her home and confiscated her savings of 250,000 yuan in cash. Although she was released the next day, the police refused to return the money to her.

Elderly Targeted

The persecution of elderly practitioners was especially rampant in 2020. Despite their advanced age, some were still beaten and abused after being arrested.

Physical Abuse and Held Incommunicado Detention

When 80-year-old Ms. Chen Guifen held her copy of Zhuan Falun, the main text of Falun Gong, tightly to her chest during her arrest on August 14, 2020, the police grabbed the Pengzhou City, Sichuan Province, woman’s hands and feet, dragged her to the police car, and took her to the police station. She was released at around 6 p.m. Two weeks later, her hands still had marks where the officers pinched her.

After 74-year-old Mr. Lei Zhengxia of Chongqing was arrested at his daughter’s home in Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province on September 4, 2020, a police officer pushed him into a corner of the interrogation room, punched him in the chest, hit his neck with the edge of his hand, and slammed his head against the wall. Another officer attempted to strike Mr. Lei’s legs with his knees, but Mr. Lei’s wife, who was arrested with him, stopped the officer.

Ms. Zhao Fenglan, 82, of Benxi City, Liaoning Province, was arrested at home on June 21, 2020. As she was having trouble walking and talking, the police forcibly carried her downstairs. At the police station, the police put her in a chair and carried her upstairs to the interrogation room.

The police interrogated Ms. Zhao from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They claimed that they had attempted to look for her at home, but couldn’t find her. They accused her of violating conditions of her bail from a previous arrest and put her on the wanted list. Ms. Zhao was terrified by the interrogation and she remained very weak after she was taken home later that day.

Ms. Yan Yixue, 90, of Shihezi City, Xinjiang Province, was arrested prior to the CCP’s political conference on May 22 and held in incommunicado detention until early August. She was emaciated and had severe back pain when she was released.

Ms. Zhou Shanhui, a 73-year-old Pengzhou City, Sichuan Province, woman was also detained incommunicado following her 13th arrest for practicing Falun Gong on September 8, 2020.

Pensions Suspended

In addition to physical abuse, another devastating tactic used to persecute elderly practitioners was the suspension of their pensions.

Ms. You Xiuying, 76, from Shanghai received a notice from the Social Security Office in late November 2020 to report to them within five days with documents of her previous imprisonment for practicing Falun Gong. The notice warned that her pension would be stopped if she failed to come on time to verify her one-year prison sentence in 2016.

Knowing that the five-day deadline was only an excuse and that the authorities might just suspend her pension whether she showed up or not, Ms. You still went to the social security office. She told them, “I am facing an assembly line of persecution. You illegally arrested me, illegally sentenced me, and now you are going to illegally take away my pension.”

Despite Ms. You’s appeal, the social security office staff insisted that they had to follow their supervisor’s orders and suspended her pension.

While there have been many instances of practitioners having their pensions suspended to pay back the funds they received while serving time, Ms. You is the second confirmed case in recent months in which the social security office suspended the person’s pension simply because they had been sentenced for their faith in the past. Another practitioner, Mr. Yang Hejiang, 82, from Suining City, Sichuan Province, has had his pension withheld since September 2020.

In the case of Ms. Wei Xiuying, even though she won the lawsuit against her local social security bureau for withholding her pension, the bureau still refused to resume her payments. Instead, they kept harassing her and pressing her to return the over 100,000 yuan she had received during her wrongful prison term for practicing Falun Gong. She is now faced with even more pressure after the local court sided with the bureau and froze her bank account in order to force her to repay the amount.

Impact of the Persecution on Families

For many of the elderly practitioners, they and their spouses rely on each other to manage day-to-day. When they are arrested or harassed for their faith, their family members face tremendous difficulties.

Ms. Chen Lanzhi, 85, from Jinan City, Shandong Province, was arrested on February 20, 2020, after she gave a young man a booklet about Falun Gong. The police ransacked her home and confiscated her books and other personal items.

Although Ms. Chen was released the same day, her husband was terrified by the police raid and soon fell ill. He was bedridden for a few months and passed away around September 2020.

Mr. Cheng Defu, a 73-year-old veteran in Chongqing, was repeatedly slapped in the face and had two of his teeth knocked out and his arm injured after he was arrested on March 7, 2020. The police submitted his case to the prosecutor, who indicted him. Two days before his meeting with the judge on December 3, the police arrested his wife and threatened her to leave him. Fearful of being implicated, she went back to where lived before she married, leaving Mr. Cheng struggling to care for himself on his own.

Ms. Cao Yueling, 40, and her mother, Ms. Chen Yan, 71, were sentenced to prison for their shared faith in Falun Gong two years apart, in 2016 and 2018, respectively. On May 10, 2020, 18 months after Ms. Cao returned home, Ms. Chen was released. Only three months later, Ms. Cao was arrested again on her way to visit her sons. For seeking her daughter’s release, Ms. Chen was arrested again on September 21. Now her 78-year-old husband is on his own, struggling to care for himself.

More Family Tragedies and the Impact of Persecution on Children

When the CCP ordered the persecution of Falun Gong in 1999, they didn’t only target the estimated 100-million practitioners, but also their family members. In the past 22 years, while many of the practitioners were arrested, tortured and imprisoned themselves, their families also endured unspeakable agony and pain. Some of them later chose to leave the practitioners, some saw their health deteriorated due to the pressure, and some others stood up for justice and supported their loved ones in upholding their faith.

After Ms. Jin Min from Jilin City, Jilin Province, was arrested on September 11 for talking to a taxi driver about Falun Gong. Her father, in his 80s, went around town asking about her, only to be given run-arounds and denied a visit to her.

Ms. Bu Rumei’s father, who lived with Ms. Bu, was so terrified when the police came to ransack their place on April 16, 2020, that his terminal illness took a turn for the worse and he died a month later. Although Ms. Bu of Changzhou City, Jiangsu Province, was released the next day, the authorities kept harassing her. Her 12-year-old younger daughter once said to a prosecutor who came to ask them questions, “My mom didn’t do anything wrong, nor has she harmed anyone. I couldn’t take it if you sentence my mom.”

The police broke into Ms. Yu Aili’s home at around 6 a.m. on July 15, 2020, and arrested her. Ms. Yu’s arrest and subsequent detention caused tremendous difficulty for her husband, who is bedridden after suffering a stroke years ago.

Ms. Yu wasn’t the only one in her family who has been targeted for her faith. Both her mother, Ms. Liang Deqin, and her sister, Ms. Yu Aiji, have been persecuted. After the elderly Ms. Liang was released after an arrest in 2015, she was so terrified that she collapsed whenever she heard footsteps in the hallway or a knock on the door.

Ms. Yu Aiji was sentenced to three years on January 21, 2016. Her father suffered a stroke after learning about her sentencing and passed away. Only one week later, her husband divorced her to avoid being implicated in the persecution and he took sole possession of all of their property. Ms. Yu was dealt another blow when, not long after her divorce, her employer informed her that she had been fired. She began to suffer depression and remains withdrawn since her release. She is unable to interact with people or work.

While adults have trouble coping, their children do not remain unscathed.

After three residents of Shihezi City, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, were arrested and taken to a brainwashing center in November 2020, their families and children were left in dire straits.

The police harassed Ms. Zhan Ying’s daughter, Ms. Zou Xiaoyu, who had also been arrested and detained for her shared faith in the past. The younger woman was beaten and forced to stand for long hours during her detention in a brainwashing center. Unable to bear the pressure, she inflicted harm on herself several times. She was unable to move and became mute for a period of time. Although she gradually recovered after being released, she would still become mute, shake involuntarily, and feel weakness in her legs when she was distressed.

After the arrests of Ms. Wang Xiaoying and her husband Mr. Bao Feng, their child went to the police station at 9 p.m. to look for the father, but was stonewalled. The child burst into tears and stayed at the police station until 2 a.m. The police had to take the child home to pack up clothes for the couple. The child often had nightmares about the arrests and woke up crying.

Ms. Yu Minghui, a fashion designer who currently resides in the U.K., grew up witnessing the persecution of her parents. Her father, Mr. Yu Zonghai, a librarian, was sentenced to 15 years in 2001 for hanging up a banner that said “Falun Dafa is good.” Her mother, Ms. Wang Meihong, a senior engineer at Heilongjiang Geological Exploration Institute, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2003 and tortured relentlessly before being arrested again on November 23.

Ms. Yu Minghui and her mother Ms. Wang Meihong before the persecution began in 1999

While Mr. Huang Zhufeng, a former engineer in Maoming City, Guangdong Province, is still detained and faces prosecution for his faith, the authorities forced his landlord to terminate the family’s rental lease and ordered his wife, Ms. Xie Yuezhen, and their 15-year-old son to move out in a few days. Now their son, a ninth grader, refuses to go to school anymore.

In another incident, the police stuffed Mr. Kong Lingpo’s ten-year-old grandson into their cruiser and ordered him to tell them how to get to his uncle’s (Mr. Kong’s younger son’s) house. The young boy was traumatized by the experience.

Read the original article in its entirety here: https://en.minghui.org/html/articles/2021/1/18/189976.html