Brussels, Belgium - In a resolution by the European Parliament and in statements by European officials and civil rights organizations, Russia has been censured for banning the book of a Chinese spiritual practice—a measure it took, observers say, as a result of pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
On Jan. 20, a resolution was passed in the full European Parliament expressing “deep concern” about the misuse of anti-extremism legislation in Russia, including the “improper banning” of the spiritual literature of Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong.
Then on Feb. 28 at a meeting on the Subcommittee on Human Rights in the European Parliament, statements were heard also criticizing the Russian government’s ban. High-level officials in the European Commission, and members of the European Parliament, have also written to each other with worry about the Russian legal decisions and their implications.
The flurry of criticism and concern emanate from a Dec. 22, 2011 action by the regional court in Krasnodar, in the south of Russia, to confirm the decision of a lower court to ban Falun Gong spiritual materials—specifically the central book of the practice, “Zhuan Falun”—and a report by two Canadian researchers titled “Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China.” A clutch of other Falun Gong-related material was also encompassed in the ban, which means they were added to the Ministry of Justice’s “extremist publications” list.
Falun Gong is a Chinese spiritual practice that has been persecuted in its home country since 1999; Chinese communist authorities have assiduously promoted the campaign abroad, leveraging their extensive diplomatic channels in foreign countries. It is thought that the Russian judicial moves are part of this wider Chinese communist effort.
“There were numerous violations in the court proceedings, in which the rights of Falun Gong practitioners to defend themselves were not respected and taken into account,” according to a statement by the Falun Dafa Association in Russia.
“The Falun Gong association has been legally registered in several cities of Russia and Falun Gong practitioners in Russia are law-obeying residents, following the peaceful meditation practice of Falun Gong,” the statement said. “This court case is an obvious violation of the fundamental human rights of Falun Gong practitioners.”
Falun Gong practitioners have the support of high-level officials in the European Commission. Catherine Ashton, the vice president of the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union), noted in a letter to two parliamentary members that the case is being followed “very closely” at EU headquarters in Brussels and by the EU delegation in Moscow.
The letter notes a number of related cases of harassment—prosecution, house searches, fines, and confiscations—that befell Russian Falun Gong practitioners as extralegal augments to the judicial edicts. “All these questions and concerns have been raised with Russian authorities on a number of occasions,” Ashton wrote, concluding with: “Let me assure you that we will continue to follow the developments in this case very closely.”
The Russian moves were also noted by the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, whose director said the group had “serious problems” with actions of Russian law enforcement officials and court decisions that have looked “very strange,” in remarks to New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television.
Sergey Skulkin, the spokesperson of the Falun Dafa Association of Russia, said that treating Falun Gong spiritual texts as extremist literature could lead to criminal prosecution of practitioners in Russia. “All of this is a consequence of the pressure of the Chinese regime on the Russian government. Practitioners of Falun Gong in Russia have been facing this pressure for the past eight years,” he said in an interview with NTD.
The Falun Dafa Association’s letter says: “We urge the international community to pay serious attention to this court case and to protection of the basic rights of Falun Gong practitioners in Russia, so that they have the right to practice their belief and read the ‘Zhuan Falun’ book, already translated into more than 39 languages and shared by 100 million people in over 114 countries.”
The statement says the group’s next stop will be the Russian Supreme Court.