(Minghui.org) In its newly released 2023 International Religious Freedom Report, the United States Department of State (DOS) highlighted the persecution against Falun Gong by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The report mentioned Falun Gong 58 times.

Citing information from Minghui, the report said 188 practitioners lost their lives in 2023 due to the suppression. During the press conference on June 26 for the release of the report, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said more efforts are needed to stop the brutalities in China.


Protecting the Fundamental Part of Mankind

At the press conference, Blinken said everyone should be able to choose and practice their beliefs, but now religious freedom is still not respected for a large number of people around the world. “We work relentlessly to secure the release of people in prison for exercising their right to religious freedom around the globe,” he said. “Ultimately, this work is about protecting 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.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the press conference

United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, said the CCP has been persecuting various groups for decades including Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and Falun Gong practitioners. “This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on Falun Gong practitioners,” he said.

In particular Hussain mentioned Yuhua Zhang, a Falun Gong practitioner who attended the press conference. Zhang served several prison sentences and was tortured for her belief. Hussain also praised Zhang for her efforts to rescue her husband who is still imprisoned in China. “We even see the PRC attempt to reach across its borders to target individuals and silence critics, such as the reports of Chinese authorities engaging in transnational repression against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong, and many more,” he added.

“All of us have the responsibility, starting with ourselves and starting with our families, to counter dehumanization and promote respect,” Hussain said near the end of his speech. “That is a critical goal that will lead us to the future that we seek in the long run. That’s the vision that gives us hope even as we continue the tireless work to help those who are facing oppression around the world.”

Rashad Hussain, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, at the press conference


Practitioners Invited to Attend the Press Conference

Dr. Yuhua Zhang and a representative from the Falun Dafa Association in Washington D.C., along with representatives from over 10 persecuted religions or faith groups, were invited to attend the press conference.

After the press conference, Blinken and Hussain took turns talking with faith group representatives. In a brief provided to Blinken, a representative from the Falun Dafa Association in Washington D.C. said the CCP has been more rampant in the transnational suppression against Falun Gong practitioners including some instances related to Shen Yun Performing Arts. For example, earlier this year, there were numerous bomb threats at Shen Yun headquarters and theaters that held Shen Yun performances. The regime recently instigated some bad people to spread false information on social media to defame Shen Yun; it also sent such false information to major news media in Western society in an attempt to slander Shen Yun on a large scale. This is typical transnational repression by which the CCP exports the persecution in China, overseas.

During their conversation, the practitioner also submitted a statement from the president of the Falun Dafa Association in Washington D.C. with a detailed description of these incidents. The practitioner said she hopes Blinken will pay attention to these and provide help. Blinken said the U.S. government is clear on the CCP’s transnational repression and has been striving to solve these problems. He was sympathetic for what Zhang and her husband experienced, and thanked them for their efforts to uphold freedom of belief.

Rashad Hussain, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom (left), and Falun Gong practitioner Yuhua Zhang.


Nearly 200 Confirmed Deaths Last Year

Citing information from Minghui, the report stated, “188 Falun Gong adherents died during the year as a result of persecution. Minghui also reported that during the year authorities imprisoned 755 Falun Gong practitioners, arrested 3,457, and harassed 2,749 others, with harassment and arrests increasing around politically sensitive events.”

The report said a review from Minghui confirmed 188 deaths during the year as a result of persecution of Falun Gong members and an additional 66 deaths that occurred in prior years but had not yet been reported. “Minghui stated many deaths were linked to injuries sustained while under torture in detention or incarceration, while others died after being denied adequate medical treatment,” wrote the report. For example, Wuhan resident Zong Ming, died in January, six days after her release from an eight-month stay in a reeducation centre. Zong died after hospital staff refused to treat her. Another practitioner, Hu Yongxiu, died in custody six days after police arrested her on March 30 for talking to people about Falun Gong outside of a hospital in Wuhan.

The DOS report stated that, according to NGOs, authorities continued to arrest Falun Gong practitioners in large numbers. “Minghui reported that authorities imprisoned 755 Falun Gong practitioners during the year (compared with 446 in 2022), 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 also found harassment and arrests increased around politically sensitive events, such as the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, both held in March, and “World Falun Dafa Day” on May 13. “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. 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.”

Citing information from Minghui, the DOS report stated, “Often during arrests, practitioners face excessive violence by the police. Once in custody, they may be victims of torture as the police attempt to force them to renounce Falun Gong or provide information about what they have done to raise awareness about the persecution or their interactions with other practitioners.” For example, on February 20 police arrested Zhang Jue of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, for talking to people about Falun Gong on the street. Police tied her to a tiger bench, beamed bright light into her eyes, and interrogated her the entire night without allowing her to sleep.

According to the Falun Dafa Information Centre, authorities sentenced Falun Gong practitioners He Binggang and his fiancee Zhang Yibo on June 12 to six- and five-years’ imprisonment, respectively, for their involvement in developing and maintaining firewall circumvention software, the report stated. “Minghui reported Falun Gong practitioners developed the software, called oGate, to overcome government internet censorship. Police arrested He and Zhang in Shanghai in 2021, along with other Falun Gong practitioners from different parts of the country believed to be involved in oGate. Authorities reportedly denied He access to his attorney during his detention,” continued the report.

Bitter Winter also found persecution among the Yi ethnic minority in the Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province. “Authorities in September sentenced Miao Xuqiong, a 75-year-old Falun Gong practitioner, to four years in prison. Authorities detained Miao in 2021 and held her incommunicado. Authorities previously detained her from 2016-2020 for her Falun Gong activity,” stated the DOS report.


New York City Bar Association Exposes Organ Harvesting in China

Civil society organisations also expressed concern over reports that authorities forced members of religious organizations, in particular Falun Gong members and ethnic Uyghurs, to serve as organ donors.

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

There are many such examples listed in the report. In Voices in Bioethics published in March, one of the New York City Bar Association report’s authors said that in China, “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.”

According to the DOS report, the Europe-based Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience and the Romanian Independent Society of Human Rights, joined by the Association for Ethical Organ Transplants and 12 other NGOs, submitted a written statement to the UN Human Rights Council calling on the UN Secretary-General in August to initiate a fact-finding mission regarding forced organ harvesting in China. “The statement also called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to include a verification of the end of forced organ harvesting of Chinese Falun Gong members in its One Health agenda.”

Furthermore, numerous Falun Gong practitioners reported to Minghui that authorities forced them to undergo medical examinations against their will while in detention and to provide blood samples.


Abuse of Article 300 of the Criminal Law

According to the DOS report, Chinese authorities also often abused Article 300 of Chinese Criminal Law to persecute Falun Gong practitioners. In one case reported by the Christian advocacy NGO CSW (formerly Christian Solidarity Worldwide), Falun Gong practitioner Feng Yunqing remained in Wuhan Women’s Prison at year’s end, serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence for “using a cult to undermine law enforcement.” Authorities arrested Feng in 2017 after she posted videos on the Internet related to the government’s persecution of Falun Gong, Christian house churches, and human rights activists. CSW found authorities kept her husband Fang Bin, a Falun Gong practitioner and COVID-19 whistleblower, under strict surveillance after his April release from prison.

The Dui Hua submission to CEDAW also said women continued to receive harsh sentences for Article 300 violations. For example, one female Falun Gong practitioner received a 15-year prison sentence in late 2022, to be followed upon her release in 2036 by four years of “supplemental deprivation of political rights,” during which time she would be deprived of voting and free speech rights and subject to “intense police monitoring and travel restrictions as a ‘targeted person.’” Dui Hua stated this was among the longest prison sentences observed for a Falun Gong member convicted solely of an Article 300 offense, wrote the DOS report.


Social Discrimination

Because the government and individuals link religion, culture, and ethnicity, it was difficult to categorise many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity. Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners reported societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities. There were also reports that Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of other religious minority groups continued to face difficulties in finding accommodation when they traveled. “Discrimination against potential or current tenants based on their religious beliefs reportedly continued. Falun Gong practitioners continued to report difficulties in finding landlords who would rent them apartments,” wrote the DOS report.

Furthermore, the CCP sometimes withheld social welfare benefits from individuals who refused to reject folk religions. The report found government continued its campaign against religious groups it characterised as “cults,” including Falun Gong, and it conducted propaganda campaigns aimed at school-age children against xie jiao (literally “heterodox teachings”).


Transnational Repression

Transnational repression targeting members of banned religious groups also continued, in particular against members of Falun Gong. “In a May report, the Falun Dafa Information Centre stated that PRC authorities conducted physical and digital surveillance on Falun Gong members who attended college in the United States. One student studying in Illinois reported PRC diplomats in the United States ordered the Chinese Student and Scholars Association at his university to expel him from the group for publishing information on Falun Gong on his personal website,” wrote the DOS report. “Multiple students cited in the report PRC authorities had harassed, detained, or otherwise persecuted their family members in China to discourage their Falun Gong-related activities in the United States, or to coerce the students to return to China.”

In April, a U.S. federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York charged two defendants in connection with opening and operating an undeclared overseas “police station” in lower Manhattan under the PRC’s Ministry of Public Security. “The complaint said one defendant, a New York City resident, had assisted the PRC government by participating in counterprotests in Washington, D.C. against members of Falun Gong and helping locate persons of interest to the PRC government,” wrote the report.

A U.S. federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York charged two individuals in May with acting and conspiring to act in the United States as unregistered agents of the PRC. The U.S. Department of Justice said the individuals allegedly furthered the PRC government’s transnational repression campaign against Falun Gong practitioners by attempting to bribe a purported Internal Revenue Service official who was actually an undercover law enforcement agent.

The Falun Dafa Association of Canada also reported in October that the CCP used political infiltration, disinformation, manipulation, intimidation, assault, surveillance, and harassment to silence Falun Gong adherents and suppress Canadian public support for Falun Gong.


Interfering with Shen Yun

The Falun Dafa Association also reported the PRC government pressured foreign entertainment venues in multiple countries to refuse to host or cancel already scheduled performances of the U.S.-based Falun Gong-affiliated dance troupe Shen Yun. “Many of the performers are Falun Gong practitioners and, in addition to traditional Chinese dances, some dances portray present-day religious persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China,” stated the DOS report.

Blinken said the U.S. government is clear on the CCP’s transnational repression and is working on solving it.


Continued Support

According to the DOS report, the Secretary of State, U.S. Ambassador to the PRC, and other senior Department of State officials, as well as embassy and consulate general representatives, repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom in the country, including in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.

The U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom said on May 15 at the release of the 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom, “The People’s Republic of China seized, imprisoned, and banished predominantly Muslim Uyghurs to re-education camps. They continue the repression of Tibetan Buddhists, Chinese Christians, and Falun Gong practitioners – many of whom are fleeing the PRC’s abuses.”

“In a July 20 social media statement, the State Department spokesperson recognized 24 years since the PRC launched a campaign of repression against Falun Gong and its practitioners, advocates, and human rights defenders and expressed solidarity with this community,” stated the DOS report.