Worldwide Vigils Mark 20th Anniversary of Falun Gong Appeal

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners holding a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners holding a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen)

NEW YORK — Practitioners of Falun Gong will mark April 25 this Thursday with candlelight vigils around the world, remembering the thousands who have been killed in China as well as the millions who have faced harassment and abuse.

It was on April 25, 1999, that Falun Gong first gained worldwide attention when some 10,000 adherents petitioned the central government in Beijing. Those gathering asked officials to release 45 practitioners who had recently been subjected to police abuse and unlawfully detained, and called for protection of their right to practice their beliefs in peace.

On that day then-Premier Zhu Rongji met with Falun Gong representatives and sympathized with their issue. The group’s concerns were met and everyone went home.

The gathering was peaceful, silent, lawful, and did not even obstruct traffic. It was the largest appeal for freedom of belief in China’s history.

However, on July 20, 1999, then Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief, Jiang Zemin, overturned then-Premier Zhu’s handling of the situation, and single-handedly launched his campaign to eliminate Falun Gong.

Widely Misunderstood Gathering

Most media and many China watchers have identified this April 25th gathering 20 years ago as the reason for the persecution. But events leading up to the incident as well as eye-witness testimonies indicate an elaborate bait-and-switch scheme was at play: Chinese security officials had arrested dozens of Falun Gong practitioners in a nearby city without due cause. When other practitioners arrived to ask that they be released, the officials told them to go to Beijing to appeal. Following this instruction, Falun Gong practitioners throughout the region gathered in Beijing, and then officials framed the gathering at the State Council Appeal Office as a “besieging” of the government compound.

The Party repackaged photos and video from the event into a media segment broadcast nationwide that contained the false pretext for persecution that the Party had been looking for.

An investigative report titled “An Occurrence on Fuyou Street” by Ethan Gutmann in The National Review sorts through the evidence in detail. It explains that Western media outlets adopted the Party’s own retelling of events. It also explores additional reasons why some China watchers themselves are unclear that the April 25 event did not cause the persecution of Falun Gong.

20 Years of Killing

For 20 years, intense hate propaganda has turned society against 100 million people who practice Falun Gong and their families. More than 4,200 deaths of Falun Gong practitioners have been confirmed by overseas human rights workers, although the actual death toll is many times higher. Hundreds of thousands of accounts of torture or abuse in custody have been documented.

In 2015 Freedom House reported: “Hundreds of thousands of [Falun Gong] adherents were sentenced to labor camps and prison terms, making them the largest contingent of prisoners of conscience in the country.” Another report by Freedom House in 2017 concluded, “credible evidence suggesting Falun Gong detainees were killed for their organs on a large scale.”

In 2018, the deaths of 69 Falun Gong practitioners were confirmed, 931 Falun Gong practitioners were illegally sentenced up to 14 years in prison, and nearly 9,000 Falun Gong Practitioners were arrested or harassed.

In the past 20 years Chinese diplomats have attempted to manipulate the consciences of western officials in their host countries to stay silent about these atrocities. They have used hate propaganda, interference and threats of trade loss.

20 Years of Peaceful Resistance

Tens of millions of people still practice Falun Gong in China with many instances of people taking up the practice recently, performing quiet meditative exercises in private and incorporating the core tenets of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance into their daily lives. Even among those who were forced to renounce their faith under torture, over 500,000 have posted statements online declaring such comments “null and void.”

After two decades of making phone calls, printing homemade leaflets, or distributing DVDs to counter vilifying state propaganda and educate fellow citizens about the abuses occurring in their own backyards, Falun Gong’s grassroots outreach efforts are bearing fruit. Hundreds of lawyers have defended Falun Gong practitioners, argued their innocence in court, and challenged the legality of their persecution – all the while, knowing that doing so would likely bring persecution down upon themselves. Thousands of Chinese people who do not practice Falun Gong are signing petitions to call for the release of fellow citizens who do.

The Media’s Responsibility

Some international media outlets have chosen to adopt the perpetrator’s language by including the CCP labels “cult” and other such false labels in their reporting of Falun Gong, perhaps under the guise of “balanced reporting” – they are, after all, quoting the communist regime’s words. Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas explains that using propaganda terms to contextualize what the propagandist thinks validates the propaganda and the propagandist, thus giving credence to slander and aiding in the oppression. No media outlet today would report what Hitler labeled Jewish people in order to “balance” a report of what happened to the Jewish people across Nazi-controlled Europe.

When journalists use the labels crafted by a tyrannical regime to demonize the oppressed, they’re putting innocent lives at risk. It’s important that reporters and readers understand clearly what demonizing terms are—tools of oppression, not genuine attempts at characterization and not valid reporting. Falling short of the truth is simply allowing the media to be used by the Chinese Communist Party to extend the reach of its propaganda and its ability to oppress.

We appeal to international media to not uncritically quote the CCP’s propaganda label, which has created indifference in society that has aided in the deaths and torture of countless innocent people.

Candle Vigils

Falun Gong practitioners and their supporters will participate in candlelight vigils and sit-ins outside Chinese embassies and consulates in New York, Washington DC, London, Paris, Sydney, Toronto and other cities around the world. Victims of the persecution who have escaped from China and individuals who were present at the original April 25th appeal will be available for media interviews.

Ten years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, 10,000 Falun gong practitioners gathered outside China’s central leadership compound in Beijing. They had come to appeal at China’s central appeals office — to appeal for practitioners who had been wrongfully arrested in the city of Tianjin, for their books, which had been banned, and for practitioners all over the country who were being harassed and investigated by the police. They were met by then-Chinese Premier Zhu and the arrested practitioners were released. It seemed like the appeal had been successful. But in reality, time was running out, and the brutal crackdown was getting closer and closer.