On May 23, 2023, the International Religious Freedom Caucus hosted a congressional briefing on the persecution of Falun Gong. First-hand victims, experts, and caucus co-chair Rep. Bilirakis were joined by over 30 congressional staffers, China researchers, and media workers to discuss recent developments and key cases of persecution in China and consider actions to counter the Chinese regime's suppression of Falun Gong. At this briefing, three Falun Gong practitioners were given the space to share their family tragedies caused by the persecution and call for the release of their parents: You Zhou's father was recently sentenced to 8 years in prison for possessing Falun Gong books; Steven and Lydia Wang's mother was recently sentenced to 4 years in prison for distributing flyers; Simon Zhang's mother was persecuted to death in custody last year. Holding the Chinese Regime Accountable Rep. Gus Billirakis, co-chair of the IRFC, expressed his dismay at the ongoing repression targeting Falun Gong practitioners, who have been primary targets of the Chinese regime since 1999. He condemned the wide array of persecution tactics used on adherents simply for their faith: intimidation, censorship, imprisonment, forced labor, torture, live organ harvesting, and even death. Rep. Billirakis emphasized that Falun Gong practitioners are a major source of illegally obtained organs for the communist regime. Inside CCP prisons, concentration camps, and detention centers, Falun Gong practitioners are subjected to unimaginable torture. Rep. Bilirakis speaks at the briefing “We must take action within our power to stop the persecution from continuing. The United States and our allies must be strong advocates for protecting the basic human rights of all individuals,” remarked Rep. Billirakis. He reiterated that no one should be imprisoned or killed for their beliefs, and the CCP should be held accountable for its human rights violations through cohesive government action and public awareness. Several bills have been introduced in the United States in response to the CCP’s brutal persecution of Falun Gong. Rep. Billirakis highlighted the passage of the Stop Live Organ Harvesting Act of 2023, of which he is a co-sponsor, by the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2023. Additionally, he co-sponsored the Protect Falun Gong Act. He affirmed his commitment to working with like-minded colleagues in the U.S. Congress to ensure the passage of these bills. Repression Falun Gong Expands to the U.S. Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, urged the U.S. to take measures at the national level, stating, “We must restrict all organ transplant medical institutions, hospitals, and universities from engaging in the CCP’s live organ harvesting atrocities, and the State Department must take immediate action.” Nina Shea shares her expertise on forced organ harvesting and transnational repression of Falun Gong in the United States Shea highlighted that this "second genocide" of the CCP has extended its repression to the United States, a campaign that has been ongoing for years. She also noted that the FBI recently arrested two CCP agents, who operated a police station in Manhattan and monitored Falun Gong practitioners in the US. Nina Shea referred to an indictment released by the U.S. Department of Justice on April 5, which charges the two men with acting as CCP agents and obstructing justice. The indictment specifically mentions Falun Gong thirteen times. In addition to the two agents arrested for their attempted bribery scheme on May 26, this is the most recent evidence of the CCP’s aggressive global crackdown on Falun Gong. Single Mother Campaigns for Her Mother's Release Lydia Wang, joined by her brother and Shen Yun principal dancer Steven Wang, also shared her story. Wang recounted that their parents and four siblings began practicing Falun Dafa in 1996, embracing its principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance to cultivate themselves. However, their once-happy family was torn apart when the persecution started in 1999. Siblings Steven Wang (L) and Lydia Wang (R) advocated for their mother's release, who was sentenced to 4 years in prison on March 10, 2023 for distributing Falun Gong flyers in her neighborhood Steven and Lydia's mother, Ms. Liu Aihua, endured more than ten arrests and detentions over the past 24 years, spending over a decade in prisons. She was secretly arrested again on July 7, 2022, less than a year after she was released from a previous prison sentence. She was sentenced again to four years in prison on March 10, 2023. Her only “crimes” were spreading information about Falun Gong and possessing Falun Gong books at home. Due to the severity of the persecution, their father passed away on September 20, 2009, after his health was destroyed by the torture he suffered in custody. After her then-husband threatened to send her to a brainwashing center and force her to abort their second daughter, Lydia was forced to flee China, separating from her first daughter who was just 15 months old at the time. She was also forced to divorce her husband. Lydia Wang shares her story with the IRF Roundtable Following the IRFC briefing, panelist Lydia Wang was also invited to share her story at the IRF Roundtable meeting with over forty religious freedom advocates and government officials like the Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Executive Director Erin D. Singshinsuk, and International Religious Freedom Secretariat President Nadine Maenza. As a single mother who has experienced the black jails and emotional torment of the persecution, Lydia Wang shared a shortened version of her journey and the plight of her mother, who is sentenced to four years in prison for distributing Falun Gong flyers in China. Many of the individuals present applauded her courage and strength, and supported her goal to bring her mother safely to the United States. You can read her speech here or watch it here. Florida Engineer’s Father Sentenced to Eight Years Zhou You, a software engineer residing in Florida and a Falun Gong practitioner, testified during the briefing that his father, Mr. Zhou Deyong, was recently sentenced to eight years by the CCP. Mr. Zhou Deyong, a senior geological engineer at the Shengli Oilfield in Dongying, Shandong Province, was arrested by the police on April 23, 2021 during a police sweep. He underwent three hearings within two years at the Dongying District Court before being convicted. Following his father’s arrest, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Representative Bilirakis, as well as eight other Florida Representatives wrote to U.S. President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CCP Chairman Xi Jinping multiple times regarding this case. Zhou You, a software engineer from Florida, talked about his father’s recent eight-year prison sentence by the CCP on May 23, 2023. “My father is 62 years old. He has lost all of his teeth and is unable to eat meat, vegetables, or even rice. His diet is limited to soup every day,” said Zhou You. He added, “Please help my father and all Falun Gong practitioners who are being persecuted in China.” In his spare time, Zhou You, a YouTuber with 210,000 subscribers, created a special episode about his father’s experience. The episode was watched by 120,000 people, and he received encouragement from kind individuals around the world. “I will not give up. I will continue my efforts to rescue my father,” Zhou You affirmed. New York Architect: Mother Tortured to Death in Detention Center Simon Zhang, an architect from Brooklyn, New York, shared the tragic account of his mother, Ms. Ji Yunzhi, who was persecuted to death last year at the age of 65. Ms. Ji, a resident of Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia, was arrested at her home on February 1, 2022. She endured beatings and abuse while in custody. When she initiated a hunger strike to protest the persecution, she was forcibly fed and repeatedly slapped in the face. Seven weeks later, she passed away in a hospital. Her family noticed that her esophagus had been cut open and her face and shoulders were covered in blood. They weren’t allowed to get close to her. Despite her family’s objections, the authorities forcibly cremated her body in a heavily guarded crematorium. Simon Zhang, an architect from Brooklyn, shared the tragic account of his mother Ms. Ji Yunzhi Simon said, “During the last 23 years, my mother was constantly monitored, harassed, arrested, tortured, and abused. All she did was uphold the principles of Falun Gong -Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance. She steadfastly refused to renounce these principles, even in the face of physical and mental torment.” His mother had longed to visit the United States and be able to freely practice Falun Gong here. However, the CCP denied her a passport, and now her dream will never be realized. Radio Free Asia Mandarin and the Epoch Times also reported on this story.