At noon Thursday on the lower west terrace lawn of the U.S. Capitol, members of Congress, human rights and religious freedom activists will meet to commemorate a sad anniversary: 10 years of imprisonment and torture of the Chinese meditation group Falun Gong.
You may remember how Wenyi Wang, a reporter for the Epoch Times, sneaked into the press section during an April 20, 2006, speech on the South Lawn of the White House just before Chinese President Hu Jintao was to give a speech. Suddenly, “Stop persecuting Falun Gong,” she screamed while unfurling a yellow banner with the group’s name on it. It took several minutes for the Secret Service to arrest her.
Falun Gong is a Chinese spiritual discipline that is Buddhist in nature. It consists of moral teachings, meditation and four exercises that resemble tai-chi.
The group says 3,200 of its members, at a minimum, have been tortured to death by the Chinese government. It cites Wang Lixuan, who had to watch her 7-month-old son die in front of her after he was hung upside down. Then police broke her neck and crushed her skull.
Then there are the forced organ transplants, one of the things Miss Wenyi was protesting. Just before her White House visit, this newspaper interviewed a Chinese journalist who uncovered a secret detention center in northern China that was used to harvest human organs for sale to domestic and international buyers. (The Chinese, of course, denied such a place exists.) The journalist estimated 6,000 Falun Gong prisoners were being mined for body parts. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, which chronicled the practice in March 2007, said the harvesting began in 2001.
What got the communist government going on April 25,1999, was the Falun Gong’s ability to summon 10,000 of its practitioners, standing in silent protest, in a mass demonstration in Zhongnanhai, the government’s compound in Beijing. The government struck back July 20, arresting the ringleaders of the April demonstration. Thousands of practitioners, the Falun Gong says, were dragged from their beds at dawn that day by police.
The Falun Gong is one of many groups I have listed in the fat religious persecution folder in my office. Buddhists, Muslims (especially out west) and Christians likewise get brutalized in China. But the Falun Gong, whose numbers were 70 million to 100 million at its height, seem to outrage the Chinese leaders the most. Maybe it’s because the Falun Gong outnumbered the membership of the Communist Party and their practices are so quintessentially Chinese.
New Jersey Reps. Christopher H. Smith, a Republican, and Robert E. Andrews, a Democrat, plus 59 other members of Congress wrote a July 8 letter to President Obama asking that, “In view of the extreme brutality of the persecution faced by Falun Gong practitioners, our government should speak very clearly and specifically on their behalf to the Chinese government.”
Mr. Obama hasn’t said much about religious persecution during his brief time in office and the U.S. government isn’t exactly known for standing up to China on human rights issues. Our massive indebtedness to China gives us little heft when it comes to pressuring them. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and the Falun Gong deserves a break.
Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.