China: Situation of Falun Gong practitioners and treatment by state authorities (2001-2005) (Excerpts 1)
By Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
October 31, 2005
Situation of Falun Gong Practitioners and Government Response since 2000
A government campaign against Falun Gong practitioners (Chang 2004, 18; International Religious Freedom Report 2001 26 Oct. 2001, Sec. 2), purportedly with the aim of sending all remaining adherents into custody and forcing them to renounce the movement, unfolded in the aftermath of 23 January 2001 (ibid.). On that day, a group of alleged Falun Gong practitioners set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square (AFP 31 Jan. 2001; Asia Times Online 10 Apr. 2002; Chang 2004, 16). However, Falun Gong spokespersons denied that the people involved in the immolations were practitioners (ibid; AFP 31 Jan. 2001; Chang 2004, 18; CNN 24 Jan. 2001), and argued instead that the government had staged the incident (AFP 11 July 2002; NTD TV 2001).
In February 2001, following a high-level meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee, then-President Jiang Zemin reportedly instructed local and provincial authorities to “strengthen local control over Falungong practitioners” (HRW Jan. 2002, 35). Practitioners who actively engaged in Falun Gong were ordered detained, and all sectors of society were to play their part in ensuring that Falun Gong practitioners recanted their beliefs (ibid., 36; see also Chang 2004, 18-19; International Religious Freedom Report 2001 26 Oct. 2001, Sec. 2).
Two subsequent self-immolations were reported (Chang 2004, 17, 21). Maria Hsia Chang wrote in The End of Days that one self-immolation occurred on 16 February 2001 in a residential neighbourhood of Beijing (Chang 2004, 17). Another self-immolation was reported on 1 July 2001 by Xinhua News Agency, which maintained that a 19 year-old adherent of Falun Gong had set himself on fire in an attempt to rid himself of evil and reach a “higher level” of the practice (ibid., 21).
While practitioners reportedly held frequent demonstrations in Hong Kong, where Falun Gong remained legal (AP 21 Jan. 2004), in Beijing, daily, “small-scale” protests by practitioners, which had been taking place since the 1999 ban, came to an end following the January 2001 self-immolations incident (AFP 11 July 2002; HRW Jan. 2002, 36). By December 2001, HRW reported, the Chinese government had “completely shut down public practice and demonstrations” by practitioners (Jan. 2002, 43). Indeed, as a result of the risks for those involved, public demonstrations have become rare (Mosher 22 June 2005; Rachlin 23 June 2005).
In January 2001, following the self-immolations, the 610 Office issued a country-wide order to neighbourhood committees, government institutions and companies to send Falun Gong practitioners to intensive study sessions in order to induce them to renounce their beliefs (China Rights Forum Fall 2001; US June 2004, 11). So-called “transformation” centres, which fall outside the reach of the judiciary, were set up at the provincial level to compel practitioners to abandon Falun Gong (HRW Jan. 2002, 58). The International Religious Freedom Report 2001 claimed that authorities made local officials, family members and employers responsible for preventing known practitioners from engaging in Falun Gong-related activities (26 Oct. 2001, Sec. 2); schools and employers were required to monitor Falun Gong practitioners and have them sign a statement of renouncement (Rachlin 2 Dec. 2003). If the practitioners refused, they were to be turned in to the local police (ibid.). Grace Wollensak, a representative of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada (FDAC), commented that because employers were not allowed to have Falun Gong practitioners among their workforce, many were compelled to fire practitioners or send them to “transformation” centres (29 June 2005a). According to the representatives of both HRIC and FDI, by 2005 these policies had not changed (Mosher 22 June 2005; Rachlin 23 June 2005), though their implementation had become “more secretive” (ibid.). Wollensak commented that “there are many cases [of] practitioners [having] lost their jobs” but she did not provide any examples (29 June 2005a). The US Department of State reported in June 2004 that “[t]housands of individuals may still be undergoing criminal, administrative, and extra-judicial punishment for engaging in Falun Gong practices, admitting adherence to it, or simply refusing to condemn it” (US June 2004, 12).