Inaccurate and unfair characterizations in Axios Report

In a June 23 Axios article on internet tools for breaking through China’s Great Firewall, author Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian appears to politicize the effort in a way that suspiciously singles out Falun Gong based on their religious beliefs and supposed political leanings. In so doing, Ms. Allen-Ebrahimian incorrectly politicizes what should be largely a technology decision, and inaccurately portrays the political affiliations of Falun Gong practitioners and their supporters.

First, it is odd to raise the religious beliefs and supposed political leanings of software makers in this manner, and to note as the article’s “bottom line” that this would, by definition, affect the content of U.S. government funded broadcasters.  Do we delve into the political and religious beliefs of other software vendors? No, so why focus on it with respect to Falun Gong? When assessing solutions to address the important issue of how to make the internet freely accessible around the globe, the focus should be on: (1) does the technology work (the article acknowledges that it does) and (2) can it be adopted to solve the problem of internet censorship (the article acknowledges that it has already proven itself in several countries).  Why the focus on the religious or supposed political leanings of the software makers?

What’s equally disturbing is that the article completely mischaracterizes the political leanings of Falun Gong when asserting that the practice has “made common cause with the global far-right.” Falun Gong is a spiritual faith practiced by millions of people in over 70 countries with diverse ethnicities, professions, and political views. 

In the United States’ own political context, for 20 years (long before the rise of today’s hyper-partisan politics), Falun Gong has clearly and consistently sounded the alarm about the dangers of the Chinese Communist Party, and worked with both Democrats and Republicans to expose the human rights abuses suffered by practitioners in China. Looking at U.S. Congressional resolutions supporting Falun Gong and denouncing the persecution in China (there have been five in total over the past 18 years), the co-sponsor list is bi-partisan. A few examples include: House Resolution 343 cosponsored by 83 Democrats and 102 Republicans; House Resolution 605 cosponsored by 40 Democrats and 41 Republicans; House Concurrent Resolution 188 cosponsored by 62 Democrats and 37 Republicans. And a current Senate Resolution 274 sponsored by Senator Menendez, a Democrat, has 14 Democrats and 16 Republicans as cosponsors.

Oddly, this article itself contradicts the “common cause with the global far-right” by identifying one of the champions of the technologies created by Falun Gong scientists as Katrina Lantos Swett – a Democrat and the daughter of the late Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, who himself was an ardent supporter of Falun Gong. It’s hardly the support you’d expect to see for an element of the “far-right.” Yet the article omits Swett’s political affiliation.

Furthermore, the article re-iterates as fact the false narrative that Falun Gong “operates” a media empire, including the Epoch Times. In fact, the Epoch Times is an independent media company that is no more “operated” by Falun Gong than the New York Times is “operated” by the Jewish faith. Yes, the Times publisher and controlling family is Jewish, but its operations do not represent Judaism. The same is true for the Epoch Times and Falun Gong.

The question of how to select and fund technology and companies to ensure uncensored access to the internet is an important step to ensuring liberty. It requires a process focused on the capabilities of the technologies themselves and the competence of the companies developing them. Let’s keep the political finger-pointing, and singling out of specific religions out of the room. Such reporting is not only inaccurate and unfair but also risks reducing public and policymaker support for innocent believers in China, support that can make the difference between life and death for a prisoner of conscience.

Specifically, the Falun Dafa Information Center is calling on Axios to correct the article, removing the “far-right” label it places on Falun Gong, acknowledging the long-standing bi-partisan support for Falun Gong, and noting the separation between the spiritual faith and media outlets run by individual practitioners.