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It’s one of the largest campaigns of religious persecution happening in the world today.

Millions of innocent people in China have been fired, expelled, jailed, tortured, or killed simply for practicing Falun Gong. And the Chinese Communist Party is trying everything to keep you from knowing.

It began in the middle of the night, July 20, 1999.

Across China under the veil of darkness, police dragged ordinary people from their beds. Many would be taken to holding centers and jails, others beaten, and some would die from torture.

Police were acting on directives from the top, from Communist Party head Jiang Zemin, who ordered the Falun Gong crushed. By most accounts, Jiang was resentful of the popular practice—its believers numbering 100 million, more than the Party itself—and wished to make a show of power.

An award-winning short film about the persecution of Falun Gong in China.

Since then, millions of people who practice Falun Gong have been subject to wrongful imprisonment, “brainwashing” sessions, and torture, with thousands of deaths confirmed in custody. Several experts estimate more than a million Falun Gong practitioners have been killed so their vital organs could be used to fuel a booming organ transplant business in China. For the tens of millions of people who practice Falun Gong today in China, each day they live at risk of being taken away by Chinese authorities to be jailed, tortured—or worse.

Why the Persecution?

Throughout the 1990s, Falun Gong garnered support from numerous Chinese government agencies as a meditation practice deemed to improve public health and morality.

But on July 22, 1999, a massive campaign of suppression was launched. What went wrong?

One basic explanation for the seemingly irrational campaign against Falun Gong is the nature of China’s atheist and dictatorial Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which fears all groups outside its control – particularly ones that subscribe to a different ideology. From the mid-1990s, some in the Party felt their power threatened by Falun Gong’s popularity. The full persecution occurred following years of escalating harassment (timeline),

The Party has tried several times to eradicate all expressions of religion from China (a country traditionally referred to as “the land of the divine”). To this day Roman Catholics, many Protestants, and Tibetan Buddhists cannot worship freely in China and are at constant risk of detention and torture.

By 1999, Falun Gong became a natural target as it was the largest – and fastest growing – spiritual group in China with 100 million practitioners nationwide, according to Chinese government reports at the time.

Others have noted that the decision to launch the campaign is linked to former-Party head Jiang Zemin’s “fear” and “jealousy” of Falun Gong, while other leaders at the time found the group innocuous. Sources cited by the Washington Post state that, “Jiang Zemin alone decided that Falun Gong must be eliminated,” and “picked what he thought was an easy target.” (more about the origins of the campaign)