WASHINGTON—An estimated 1,500 people congregated together near Washington’s National Mall to call for an end to communist China’s brutal persecution of the spiritual group Falun Gong which has entered its 25th year—an atrocity advocates said is too critical for Americans to overlook.
At a rally held near the Capitol, U.S. rights advocates and experts raised the alarm that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has taken its persecution well beyond its borders into the United States and other free societies.
“It is something that should strike concern, if not fear in the heart of every single American and every single person living in a country where China has sought to repress, to spend to censor, to propagandize, to intimidate, to violently attack,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice.
Advocates cited recent federal prosecutions of suspected Chinese agents in the United States who allegedly aided the CCP in silencing and harassing Falun Gong adherents as part of the regime’s transnational repression. This includes one case involving an undercover Chinese police station in New York, and another involving an alleged attempt to bribe a U.S. official in a bid to “topple” Falun Gong.
“We must recognize that if we don’t confront them if we don’t meet the challenge that they pose, they will continue to spread their tentacles and the threat that they pose far beyond the borders of China itself,” Ms Swett said.
July 20 marks the 24th anniversary of the launch of the Chinese regime’s violent suppression of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice rooted in traditional Chinese culture. Composed of meditative exercises and moral teachings centered on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, the practice drew a significant following in China in the 1990s with an estimated 70 million to 100 million practitioners.
Fearful that this posed a threat to its total control, the Chinese Communist Party vowed to eliminate the faith group by any means necessary. Millions of adherents have been detained in facilities across the country, where they endure slave labor and torture in a bid to force them to give up their belief. An untold number have died from torture or been killed for their organs.
Forced Organ Harvesting
Amb. Andrew Bremberg, president and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, especially condemned the CCP’s killing of detained Falun Gong practitioners for their organs.
“The grotesque practice of forced organ harvesting is one of the CCPs most abhorrent acts of oppression,” Mr. Bremberg said at the rally.
After years of mounting evidence of the grisly crime, an independent expert panel in 2019 concluded “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the communist regime has been harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience, primarily Falun Gong adherents, on a “significant scale.”
Mr. Bremberg also cited research from last April, co-written by a fellow from his foundation, which showed “conclusively” that “Chinese surgeons had been turned into executioners, that their surgeries were used to execute political prisoners under the scalpel for the purpose of forced organ harvesting.”
He credited the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation for taking “a hugely important step” last year to ban Chinese transplant data or papers from its publications, and called on other medical institutions to follow suit.
Mr. Bremberg also cited a Texas law banning insurers from funding organ transplant surgeries linked to China, which marks the first American measure to take such a step.
“After 24 years of constant continual persecution of Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese Communist Party, it is important for Americans and people from free countries all around the world to know about and then take action to demand that the Chinese Communist Party stop its heinous human rights abuses,” he told The Epoch Times after the rally.
“At any time, human rights are violated anywhere we need to speak out, and demand that people take action.”
And even though U.S. institutions breaking off their relationships with Chinese hospitals might not end the practice, “it’ll stop our complicity with those activities. And that’s the important step that Americans need to demand gets taken,” he added.
Piero Tozzi, senior adviser to Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J) who is chair of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), shared with the rally attendees CECC’s statement.
“For the past 24 years, Falun Gong practitioners have suffered the most appalling human rights abuses imaginable, abuses that are ongoing. Falun Gong prisoners must be released and PRC officials held accountable for their crimes,” he said on behalf of CECC and Mr. Smith.
Mr. Tozzi also referenced Mr. Smith’s bill, the Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act of 2023 (H.R. 1154), which passed the House earlier this year.
The bill would sanction anyone involved in forced organ harvesting and require annual government reporting on such activities taking place in foreign countries. Sanctions include a criminal penalty of up to 20 years in prison. The bill is currently awaiting markup with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Tozzi noted that the CECC and Mr. Smith are now making targeted inquiries to American companies to ask them to ensure that their technology is not implicated in the forced organ harvesting in China
“They must make sure that their technology is not used for pernicious purposes,” he said.
Recognizing a Genocide
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Hudson Institute, was distinguished with an award from the advocacy group Friends of Falun Gong for her work defending the faith group.
“Transnational repression by the Chinese Communist Party on American soil that curtails the rights of religious freedom and freedom of speech for American citizens and American residents: this must stop.” Ms. Shea said at the rally.
Ms. Shea, holding a golden statue of a goddess bearing a trumpet and a lotus flower—a popular Chinese symbol of purity, said the award motivates her to want to do a lot more.
“This repression here, genocide there—it’s one of the world’s worst situations in terms of human rights,” she told The Epoch Times. “China is the biggest threat to religious freedom and free speech in the world today.”
Ms. Shea and other experts have recognized the CCP’s persecution as genocide and have called on the United States to designate it as such, as it has in relation to Beijing’s suppression of Uyghurs in the northwest Xinjiang region.
“There is, and was a genocide 20 years ago. It needs to be recognized,” she said.
Darren Spinck, an associate research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, echoed Ms. Shea’s sentiments. He said that it “was often convenient for U.S. officials to ignore what was happening to Falun Gong practitioners.”
“A lot of the persecution was taking place out of sight in China but now the problem has actually reached the shores of the United States,” he told The Epoch Times, noting the recent prosecutions involving the New York Chinese police station and alleged tax bribery.
“It is a direct threat to our constitutional rights of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly,” he said, as well as a demonstration of the CCP’s ambition to supplant the U.S.-led value system embraced in large parts of the world.
Mr. Spinck urged the U.S. government to restrict outbound investments to China. “U.S. funds cannot be allowed to fuel the CCP and its authoritarian policies toward religion,” he said.
After the rally, about 1,500 Falun Gong practitioners marched down Pennsylvania Avenue holding banners and signs calling for an end to the persecution. In the evening, they will hold a candlelight vigil at the rally location to remember practitioners killed for their beliefs in China.