Followers of Falun Gong are hoping public pressure will help bring charges against a former leader of the Communist Party of China for leading human rights abuses against practitioners.
“These rights abuses include the killing of thousands, the imprisonment of millions in labour camps, the tortures, the rapes of tens of thousands, the destruction of tens of millions of families and the reports of over 60,000 murdered by state officials so their vital organs could be sold through state run hospitals,” said Chi Teh, a follower of Falun Gong, who added the real death toll is estimated to be much higher.
Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is a Chinese spiritual practice that combines meditation with five basic exercises, with their theology emphasizing truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.
As the practices following grew in China – with as many as one in 12 Chinese people following Falun Gong at its height – so to did the perceived threat to communist party leader Jiang Zemin, as communist leaders feared the practice was gaining popularity faster than they could control it.
“The communist regime controls people by way of brainwashing, lies and violence, so they don’t like anything that can teach people to be mentally independent,” said Chunyan Huang, another local practitioner of Falun Gong who was at a rally to raise awareness of the issue at the corner of 107 Avenue and 97 Street on Saturday.
On June 20, 1999, Zemin allegedly ordered the persecution of followers of Falun Gong with the goal of completely eliminating them.
Since then, reports claim countless practitioners have been harassed, assaulted, falsely imprisoned and sent to work camps or even had their organs harvested against their will and sold through state run hospitals.
Huilan Chen, through an interpreter, shared her story of persecution as a follower of Falun Gong while in China, a practice she adopted when she was 21 to improve her health at the behest her older sister.
Chen says she was repeatedly harassed at work, and remembers the first time she was detained and questioned into the early hours of the morning where officials threatened her and the life of her unborn child.
Later, she was detained for seven days and forced to denounce her belief in Falun Gong, lest she be sent to jail. Though she said she struggled with betraying her religion, those who didn’t were subjected to harsher persecution, including brain washing, financial punishments or forced live organ harvesting.
Though the persecution continues despite the fact that Zemin retired as President of the People’s Republic of China in 2003 and Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2004, it appears attitudes towards followers of Falun Gong are softening.
Since May, over 80,000 legal complaints against Zemin have been filed by followers of Falun Gong with China’s supreme court, actions that even a year ago would have been greeted with severe retaliation.
10 other senior Chinese officials are also facing charges
“This wave of filings is unprecedented and significant. It shows a ground swell of support across China and across the world to bring Jiang to justice,” said Teh.
Despite Zemin’s orders for their destruction, Falun Gong found support in over 100 countries, but still the abuses followers suffered in China are not widely known, with Chinese officials also accused of bribing other officials and media to turn a blind eye.
“These are reprehensible practices, but not all that well known among Canadians society and even among Canadian parliament and government decision makers,” said Brent Rathgerber, MP for Edmonton-St. Albert who has actively advocated for greater awareness and action on the issue.
Organizers hope increased public awareness will put pressure on the current government of China to ensure Zemin is brought to justice.