State Department Highlights Persecution of Falun Gong in International Religious Freedom Report

The State Department’s latest Report on International Religious Freedom, released on June 26, again highlights rights abuses faced by Falun Gong practitioners in the report’s chapter on China.

The report, which covers the period between January 1 and December 31, 2023, is a collaborative product of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom and U.S. embassies around the world that draws upon reports from nongovernmental organizations, journalists, academics, human rights monitors, and others.

At the press conference for the reports release, Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized that religious freedom is “an essential part of what it means to be human: the ability to explore something bigger than ourselves, to decide on our own what we believe or don’t believe without fear of repression.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference for the report launch (Screenshot via NTD News)

Addressing various religious freedom violations around the world, Rashad Hussain, United States Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, singled out the Chinese regime as major violator of religious freedom for its decades-long targeting of Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and others. “This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on Falun Gong practitioners,” he said.

“Joining today is Yuhua Zhang a courageous leader who has served several prison sentences for her belief, at times enduring torture, for her beliefs, and who eagerly seeks to be reunited with her husband who is still imprisoned in China,” said Hussain.

Rashad Hussain, United States Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, poses for a photo with Falun Gong practitioner and persecution survivor Yuhua Zhang (Source: Minghui)

Continued Targeting for ‘Elimination’

As stated in the report, the Chinese regime maintains an extralegal, party-run security apparatus to eliminate Falun Gong—arbitrarily detaining, sentencing, and torturing believers to coerce them to renounce the practice.

Citing Minghui, an overseas Falun Gong website that receives reports from citizen journalists on the ground in China, the report stated that Chinese authorities detained 755 Falun Gong practitioners in 2023, arrested 3,457 individuals in 30 provinces and municipalities, and harassed 2,749 others through raids, orders to attend mandatory indoctrination classes, loss of their, jobs and other discrimination.

The report highlighted the cases of several Falun Gong practitioners. “Human rights advocates expressed concern about ongoing detention and in some cases reports of torture of Falun Gong practitioners, often for alleged activities related to practicing Falun Gong,” states the report. “Detained individuals included Chen Yang, Cao Zhimin, Liu Aihua, Zhou Deyong, Meng Zhaohong, Kong Qingping, Hou Lijun, and Xu Na. Falun Gong practitioner Wang Zhiwen, who was imprisoned from 1999-2014, reportedly remained subject to an exit ban, i.e., prohibited from leaving the country.”

Forced Organ Harvesting

“Civil society organizations continued to express concern over reports that authorities forced members of religious organizations, in particular Falun Gong members and ethnic Uyghurs, to serve as organ donors,” the report states.

The State Department cited a report from the New York Bar Association titled Human Organ Supply: Report on Ethical Considerations and Breaches in Organ Harvesting Practices that found that there was, “ample evidence China continues to engage in forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience.”

One of the New York City Bar Association report’s authors said that in China, wrote in Voices in Biotethics, “there is evidence that people incarcerated for religious beliefs and practices (Falun Gong) and ethnic minorities (Uyghurs) have been subjects of forced organ harvesting,” with witnesses testifying to “the removal of organs from live people without ample anesthesia, summonses to the execution grounds for organ removal, methods of causing death for the purpose of organ procurement, removing eyes from prisoners who were alive, and forcing live prisoners into operating rooms.”

Internet Freedom Denied

Falun Gong practitioners are routinely sentenced for sharing information about the persecution or other rights abuses committed by the Chinese regime. Some Falun Gong practitioners have also participated in creating and disseminating software for Chinese citizens to circumvent China’s internet firewall and access information that counters the CCP’s anti-Falun Gong propaganda.

For example, the report references the case of Mr. He Binggang and his fiancée Ms. Zhang Yibo who a Chinese court sentenced on June 12, 2023, a court to six- and five-year prison sentences, respectively, for circumventing the government’s internet censorship regime using software called oGate.

Falun Gong practitioners Zhang Yibo(L) and He Binggang(R)

Their joint verdict on file with the Falun Dafa Information Center also indicates that their faith in Falun Gong was a contributing factor in their cases rulings. Furthermore, Shanghai authorities denied their lawyers’ requests for legal interviews, citing national security concerns.

In addition to the Department of State, He Binggang and Zhang Yibo‘s cases have been documented by the United States Congressional Executive Commission on China.

Women and Children

Citing the Dui Hua Foundation, “The number of women incarcerated in Chinese prisons has grown faster than the population of incarcerated men over the past decade, and women are disproportionately represented in criminal cases involving unorthodox religious groups.”

In the Dui Hua Foundation’s submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the foundation used the example of an unnamed female Falun Gong practitioner who was sentenced to 15 years in late 2022, one of the longest prison sentences observed for a Falun Gong practitioner convicted solely under Article 300.

The report also highlights various propaganda campaigns aimed at Falun Gong and other groups. These campaigns targeted all realms of society, but particularly targeted children with cartoon and animated videos in schools and online.

ChinaAid reported in March 2023 that schools in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, required parents to sign a “Pledge of Commitment for the Family Not to Hold Religious Beliefs.” The pledge specifically required that parents not practice Falun Gong.

Transnational Repression

The report also highlights the Chinese Communist regime’s acts of transnational repression, including surveillance, threats, harassment, coercion by proxy, and diplomatic pressure. For over two decades, Falun Gong practitioners outside of China have been targeted with these tactics.

In the U.S., the CCP places significant emphasis on acting against Falun Gong practitioners. A May report published by the Falun Dafa Information Center (FDIC) found evidence that CCP authorities had conducted physical and digital surveillance of Falun Gong practitioners attending university in the United States. Several university students surveyed by the FDIC reported that CCP authorities had harassed, detained, or persecuted their family members in China in order to pressure these students into quitting their involvement with Falun Gong activities in the U.S.

The CCP is known for having local agents responsible for targeting Falun Gong practitioners. A U.S. federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York charged two individuals with operating an undeclared “police station” in lower Manhattan as an extension of the CCP’s Ministry of Public Security. The defendants had acted on behalf of the CCP government by locating targeted individuals and engaging in counterprotests against Falun Gong in Washington, D.C. Similarly, in May a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York charged two defendants for acting as unregistered agents of the CCP. These individuals were found to have attempted to bribe an Internal Revenue Service official into revoking the tax-exempt status of a Falun Gong-associated organization.

Another significant act of transnational repression taken by the CCP in America is centered on Shen Yun Performing Arts, a New York-based dance troupe whose performers include many Falun Gong practitioners. Shen Yun’s performances portray the religious persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China and the beauty of Chinese traditional culture, aspects that induced the CCP to interfere with the company behind-the-scenes. The Falun Dafa Association reported that the CCP government sent officials to pressure employees at performance venues in multiple countries to refuse to host Shen Yun at the location or to cancel pre-scheduled performances. These attempts were largely unsuccessful but highlight the CCP’s strong desire to control the narrative surrounding Falun Gong.

Outside of the U.S., the CCP has also taken similar action to interfere with Falun Gong practitioners in Japan, Moldova, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, and Vietnam. In Moldova, the mayor of capital city Chisinau denied Falun Gong practitioners the right to hold a peaceful rally to protest the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners when a CCP delegation visited in 2017. In Vietnam, the Communist Party actively follows the CCP’s lead by labeling Falun Gong as an “evil-way religion” on government websites and deliberately frames Falun Gong as being a harmful political entity at odds with the Communist State. Similarly in Russia, the state designated Falun Gong organizations as “undesirable” and targeted its members, which included acts of investigation, detainment, and physical abuse. This is indicative of how the CCP utilizes its influence to interfere with Falun Gong beyond its borders.