Freedom of Religion
Part X: Falun Dafa Information Center 2008 Annual Report
The year 2008 saw the increased deprivation of freedom of religion to Falun Gong adherents as many of those detained in the pre-Olympic clean up were arrested for no other reason than that they were known to continue practicing Falun Gong, even if that practice consisted of studying Falun Gong tenets and practicing Falun Gong meditation in the privacy of their homes. In many cases, adherents of Falun Gong were arrested for possessing Falun Gong books, the sale, distribution, or possession of which is prohibited.
Those who refuse to disavow their belief in Falun Gong were routinely subjected to torture and other abuses in detention as part of a program of forced “transformation.” The transformation process was described in the CECC’s annual report as “a process of ideological reprogramming whereby practitioners are subjected to various methods of physical and psychological coercion until they recant their belief in Falun Gong.”
Falun Gong has never been permitted to register as a religion in China, and the religious rights of adherents as described in the Chinese constitution are thus not acknowledged. Only individuals belonging to one of China’s five officially sanctioned religions are recognized, while other groups—including Falun Gong and house churches—are liable to face severe persecution. For a detailed description of the daily difficulties and dangers faced by adherents, even those who seek to practice only privately.
In 2008, the majority of Falun Gong adherents sentenced to prison terms were charged with “using a heretical organization to undermine the implementation of the law,” referring to article 300 of the criminal code prohibiting xie jiao, or “heretical organizations. ” Article 300 predated the campaign against Falun Gong, and the term xie jiao was not specifically applied to Falun Gong until October, 1999, when the National People’s Congress issued a decision to legitimize the campaign by labeling Falun Gong a heretical organization. As Amnesty International noted with reference to the decision: “The official directives and legal documents issued for this campaign undermine rights set out in the Chinese constitution as well as international standards. International standards permit some restrictions on freedom of expression, association and belief, but they do not grant discretion to states to define for themselves the circumstances in which these freedoms can be restricted. Under international standards, such restrictions must be ‘provided by law’, must be ‘necessary’ and must be in pursuance of a ‘legitimate’ objective, such as the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.… Indeed, restrictions must not have the effect of entirely undermining the exercise of fundamental rights. Furthermore, restrictions may not be applied simply to suppress an opinion or belief. In the case of Falun Gong and other groups, the Chinese government’s crackdown and the legislation on ‘‘heretical organizations’’ are being used precisely for this purpose.”
Exclusion from Beijing Olympics
Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, statements by top officials, as well as an internal document, indicated that Falun Gong adherents from both inside and outside China would be excluded from participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as athletes, coaches, journalists or spectators. Such a policy that discriminates on the basis of religious belief contravenes both the Olympic charter as well as the code of ethics signed in Beijing in April 2007.
In July 2007, Xinhua reported on a briefing given to defense attaches from 54 of China’s overseas embassies by Tian Yixiang, director of the military bureau for the Beijing Olympics’ security command center. According to the article: “…the PLA will be responsible for managing border control and to stop East Turkistan…organizations, Falun Gong adherents, and Tibetan separatists from getting into the games.” [emphasis added] See Xinhua, “PLA fields anti-terror team for Olympics,” 29 June 2007, available at http://www.david-kilgour.com/2007/July_11_2007_02.htm
A more formal statement relating to the specific exclusion of foreigners who practice Falun Gong from attending the games was given by Li Zhanjun, director of the Beijing Olympics media center, in November 2007. While rejecting allegations that the Chinese authorities intended to limit the entry of Bibles for personal use, Li singled out Falun Gong texts as an exception. As reported by the Associated Press: “We don’t recognize it [Falun Gong]… So Falun Gong texts, Falun Gong activities in China are forbidden.”
As an indication of how the Chinese authorities plan to identify those who should be barred, the Public Security Bureau reportedly initiated a surveillance program involving background checks into each individual wishing to attend the games. This included participating athletes, members of the media, Olympic staff members, referees, sponsors, dignitaries and the International Olympic Committee itself. Of the 43 categories of people to be targeted, included are individuals who currently practice Falun Gong, and those who have in the past practiced its exercises.
According to media reports and cited by the CECC: “Chinese public security officials also used supposed security concerns to justify a request made to the government of Japan in which they solicited information on Falun Gong practitioners residing in Japan who might attend the Olympic Games. The Japanese government refused to cooperate.”