State Department: 2023 Human Rights Report Highlights Repression of Falun Gong in China

On April 22, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices which, as with previous reports, documented severe human rights violation against Falun Gong practitioners in China.

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) almost 25-year-long campaign to eradicate Falun Gong has consisted of arbitrary detention and sentencing to long prison terms, harassment by authorities, censorship, torture, psychiatric abuse, forced “transformation,” deaths due to abuse in custody, and forced organ harvesting. Additionally, the regime has targeted Falun Gong practitioners outside the country with attempts to silence, intimidate, and malign them.

Arbitrary Detention

The country report on China states that Chinese authorities continue arbitrarily detain religious and spiritual believers such as Falun Gong practitioners. Detention took on various forms from standard detention facilities like jails and prisons to more unconventional facilities. The report states that Falun Gong practitioners in particular were regularly detained in “legal education” centers.

While the CCP continued to claim that the detention of individuals was due to legitimate violations of Chinese law, the report states, “Authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion or spiritual beliefs.” For example, the report lists Zhou Deyong among those unjustly detained. Zhou, the father and husband of two U.S. residents, was sentenced to eight years and fined 100,000 yuan ($13,680 USD) for possessing Falun Gong books on April 22, 2023.

Zhou Deyong and his wife, You Ling, traveling together in January 2020. Zhou is currently sentenced to eight years in China for possessing Falun Gong-related books and materials.

Once detained, police and prison guards regular subject Falun Gong practitioners to horrific forms of torture. “Former prisoners and detainees have reported they were beaten, raped, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, hung by the wrists, deprived of sleep, force-fed, forced to take medication against their will, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse,” the report says. “Although prison authorities abused ordinary prisoners, they reportedly singled out political and religious dissidents for particularly harsh treatment.”

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.

“In June a court sentenced He Binggang and his fiancée Zhang Yibo to six- and five-year prison sentences, respectively, for circumventing the government’s internet censorship regime using software called oGate,” says the report. “Shanghai officials detained He and Zhang in 2021. He lost the ability to walk as a result of abuse during this and previous detentions, which were connected to his practice of Falun Gong.”

Zhang Yibo and He Binggang

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.

Forced Organ Harvesting

This year’s report again raised the issue of forced organ harvesting stating, “Some activists and organizations accused the government of forcibly harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience, including religious and spiritual adherents such as Falun Gong practitioners and Muslim detainees in Xinjiang.”

Estimates from multiple separate, independent reports indicate tens of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of Falun Gong practitioners may have been killed in order to extract their vital organs, which are used to fuel a booming organ transplantation business in China.

The report also references an interview in 2023 with a Chinese doctor, who recounted participating in forced organ harvesting as early as 1994 in Dalian City, Liaoning Province, and an incident in 2002 that revealed Falun Gong practitioners were being used as an organ source.

Transnational Repression

The report also highlights the Chinese regimes’ 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.

Pictured: Australian practitioner Nancy Dong stands in front of her vehicle that was spray-painted (left) and her bruises (right) in the aftermath of an attack by pro-Beijing individuals, at the Canberra Floriade Festival in October 2022.

In 2023, Falun Gong practitioners in the United States and Australia were victims of assault by pro-Beijing actors.  Meanwhile, leaked CCP documents reveal a coordinated effort to target Falun Gong practitioners around the world.

As part of this broader transnational repression effort against Falun Gong, the regime has carried out a comprehensive campaign against Shen Yun Performing Arts. Most Shen Yun performers are also practitioners of Falun Gong, with many having fled China to escape persecution. In January 2024, the Falun Dafa Information Center published a policy brief outlining the CCP’s extensive campaign to silence and malign Shen Yun, analyzing 135 incidents in 38 countries. In recent months, the campaign has escalated to include false bomb threats on theaters and Shen Yun training facilities.