Persecution of Falun Gong a Key Topic at International Religious Freedom Summit 2022

The International Religious Freedom Summit was held in Washington, D.C. on June 28-30, 2022 with the ongoing persecution of Falun Gong and forced organ harvesting as central topics of discussion.

During the summit, the Falun Dafa Information Center held a panel on their first-ever report that analyzes persecution trends during the pandemic. According to the panel experts, the persecution has increased in recent years despite intense COVID-19 lockdowns in China. The intensified crackdown has been attributed to Falun Gong practitioners acting as whistleblowers of the CCP’s crimes. This role has made them primary targets of suppression as the CCP sought to control the narrative around the COVID-19 pandemic in China.

A second panel hosted by the Hudson Institute extensively discussed forced organ harvesting. The panelists included Nina Shea, senior fellow and director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute; Nury Turkel, chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom & Hudson senior fellow; Levi Browde, Executive Director of the Falun Dafa Information Center; and Ethan Gutman, a leading investigator into forced organ harvesting.

Persecution During the Pandemic

Falun Gong, a Buddhist-based spiritual practiced centered on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, was widely popular in the early 1990’s in China. Government surveys were reporting that 70-100 million people were practicing it just before the onset of the persecution in 1999.

Morning practice in Guangzhou, southern China, 1998.
Morning Falun Gong practice in Guangzhou, southern China, 1998.

The practice was not only popular among the public but also received praise from Chinese officials. One panelist, Larry Liu, pointed out that when Falun Gong participated in the National Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington D.C. in April 1999, officials from the Chinese Embassy in the United States came out to thank Falun Gong for promoting Chinese culture. In 1995, Mr. Li Hongzhi, Falun Gong’s founder, was even invited to give a lecture at the Chinese Embassy in Paris.

When Jiang Zemin, single handedly initiated the persecution of Falun Gong in 1999 all of the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee disagreed with the decision. However, Jiang continued and put out the order to “ruin their reputations, bankrupt them financially, and destroy them physically.”

In response to the persecution, Falun Gong practitioners have made tremendous efforts to help people understand the true nature of the CCP, the slanderous propaganda put out by state-run media about the practice, and the violent persecution they are currently enduring.

There are reported to be about 200,000 underground print shops run by Falun Gong practitioners that distribute information about what Falun Gong really is, the ongoing persecution, and the brutal history of the CCP.

According to Levi Browde, these efforts have indeed stopped many people from participating in the persecution. Some local officials and police officers have even stopped harassing Falun Gong after practitioners spoke with them directly. However, these efforts have also made those who continue to persecute Falun Gong more eager to keep them silent, especially as all eyes were on China when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

COVID-19 whistleblower Fang Bin in 2020.
COVID-19 whistleblower Fang Bin in 2020.

One Falun Gong practitioner, Fang Bin was the first to share videos online of dead bodies in Wuhan hospitals at the onset of the pandemic. He was arrested days later after uploading the videos to the internet.

Another Falun Gong practitioner, Xu Na was sentenced just days before the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic games for sharing photos of empty streets in Beijing amidst lockdowns.

Since the pandemic started, the number of reported harassment cases of Falun Gong practitioners have skyrocketed. Harassment cases include impositions of fines, home ransacking, physical abuse, forced evictions, dismissals from employment, or expulsion from school. 3,582 cases of were reported in 2019. In 2020, this number nearly tripled to 9,159 cases and remained about this high in 2021 with 9,332 cases reported.

The number of practitioners sentenced dramatically increased as well. In 2019, 775 cases of sentencings were reported. This nearly doubled by 2021, with 1,372 cases reported.

Falun Gong Practitioners Speak Out

During the panel, two Falun Gong practitioners who have escaped China shared stories of the persecution of their families.

Han Yu was 14 when her parents were first arrested for practicing Falun Gong. For the next five years her father was arrested and detained multiple times and tortured in labor camps. He was last arrested in February 2004, when Han Yu was 19 years old. Just a few months later, police informed Han Yu’s family that her father had died in custody.

Video of Han Yu’s story shown at the IRF Summit’s plenary session

Authorities told the family he died of a heart attack. However, when the family was finally allowed to see the body a month later, they saw he was covered in bruises and gashes from being beaten, and his left arm was broken.

His body also had an incision extending from his throat to his lower abdomen. When questioned about the cut down his body, police said this was due to the autopsy. However, the family never consented to an autopsy, and the police refused to provide the autopsy report. The police cremated his body soon after without the family’s permission.

A few years later reports of forced organ harvesting emerged. Looking back, Han Yu suspected her father was a victim of this horrific practice.

Another Falun Gong practitioner, Simon Zhang, shared the story of his mother, who died in police custody just a few months ago in March 2022.

Simon and his mother Yunzhi Ji

Simon’s mother had been arrested numerous times since the onset of the persecution in 1999. She was first detained in 2001 and was beaten by police. She was then sent to a labor camp where she was tortured with electric batons for two hours. She nearly died, and to avoid responsibility for her possible death, she was sent home.

Simon’s mom recovered, but was detained again in 2008, just before the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. She was sent to a labor camp and nearly died from torture for a second time. On the verge of death, she was sent home again.

This past Chinese New Year, she was detained for the third time after police broke into her home and found Falun Gong books as well as materials she distributed to help people understand the persecution. She was tortured and beaten in custody yet again.

She refused to admit she did anything wrong and went on a hunger strike in protest. However, police tortured her even more. She was sent to a hospital after eleven days of abuse. On March 20th, police called Simon’s father and told him that his wife was about to die. They refused to let her go home and she died the following day.

Hudson Institute Holds Panel on Forced Organ Harvesting

During the summit, a second panel was held on forced organ harvesting. Hosted by the Hudson Institute, the panel discussed the core evidence of forced organ harvesting as well as the expansion of this horrific practice to include members of other religious minorities and ethnic groups such as the Uyghur people in East Turkistan, or Xinjiang.

Forced organ harvesting is the practice of killing prisoners to sell their organs for transplantation. In 2006, human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian member of parliament David Kilgour confirmed allegations that forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners was taking place.

Since then, a substantial body of evidence has been collected that continue to validate Kilgour and Matas’ initial findings. This evidence includes recorded phone call investigation in which Chinese doctors and hospital staff explicitly admit to the availability of Falun Gong practitioners’ organs. These phone call investigations have continued and admissions have been recorded as recently as 2020.

Gross inconsistencies in the number of organ transplants reported and the number of organ donors have also contributed to the evidence. While Chinese officials have never given a precise figure, they typically say China transplants about 10,000 organs a year, sometimes reaching 20,000 a year (reported by China Daily in 2006). But Kilgour, Gutmann, and Matas’s report “Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update” shows that this annual figure is easily surpassed by just a few hospitals. Chinese and overseas media reported some hospitals in China conduct thousands of transplants a year.

By meticulous examination of the transplant programs of hundreds of hospitals in China, Kilgour, Gutmann, and Matas estimate that China’s actual transplant volume is closer to 60,000 – 100,000 per year since 2000. As of 2009, there were only 120 reported organ transplants by donation. According to former vice minister of health Huang Jiefu, the remaining organs came from executed prisoners. However, according to Amnesty International and Dui Hua Foundation, the number of executions in China is only a few thousand every year. With extremely low voluntary donation rate, this huge gap can only be explained by prisoners of conscience.

In 2015, Chinese officials claimed executed prisoners would no longer be used as a source for organ transplants and that hospital-based donors would be the sole source. However, analysis of China’s reported growth in organ donors has shown the reported numbers were falsified. The number of donors apparently grew according to a simple parabolic curve. The likelihood of the donor pool growing in such a fashion is about a million to one.

“Even if you took the Chinese government at their word and believed the falsified number of donors, they say 1 million, and that only a little over 8,000 organ transplants were performed, this means that the donation network inside China is, percentage wise, 62x more effective at yielding a donor from the donor pool than America, which has had decades and decades more experience,” said Levi Browde during the panel.

During the panel, Ethan Gutman also mentioned a recent article published in the American Journal of Transplant in April 2022. The article found 71 instances of dead donor rule violations documented in Chinese medical research papers on heart and lung transplants. Though the paper does not go into who the organs came from, it proves that Chinese medical doctors have played the role of executioner.

The panelists also pointed out that forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners not only continues in China today, but has expanded to include members of other groups such as the Uyghur people in Xinjiang.