Surveillance State

Falun-Gong-CCP-Propaganda-Censorship.jpeg
  • Online Falun Gong activity punished heavily

  • Facial recognition technology monitors adherents’ movements

  • Censorship and reprisals extend beyond China’s borders

 

As the CCP improves its ability to monitor online activity, basic communication has become  increasingly dangerous for Falun Gong adherents in China. The CCP’s surveillance machinery reaches beyond state-owned mobile phone companies or internet gateways into message groups and social media platforms run by ostensibly private companies. New regulations restricting online religious content and legal interpretations outlining criminal penalties for WeChat communications about banned religious groups further limit Falun Gong practitioners’ freedom of expression.

 

New restrictions on online religious content: On December 21, 2021, the CCP’s official mouthpiece, Global Times, announced that all online faith-based activity must be registered with the regime. The measures, which are jointly enacted by the National Religious Affairs Administration, Cyberspace Administration of China, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Public Security, and Ministry of State Security, only allow state-approved religious activities, which must receive a permit from the state.

 

“[Outside of state-approved activities,] no organization or individual is allowed to do missionary work online, or conduct religious education and training, publish preaching content, or forward such content,” according to the Global Times. Additionally, “Online religious contents that incite subversion of state power, violate the principle of independence and self-management in religious undertakings, induce minors to believe in religion are prohibited.” The latter would result in the suppression of any independent information for faith-based groups, such as the dissemination of information on Falun Gong and its persecution.

 

Reprisals for messages on Chinese internet platforms, including WeChat

WeChat is owned by Chinese internet giant Tencent and has over one billion monthly active users worldwide, the vast majority in China. Tencent, like all large companies in China, must follow the CCP’s censorship and surveillance policies. In recent years, human rights groups have reported on numerous cases of Chinese citizens who were detained and sentenced to long prison terms after sham trials simply because they tried to share information on WeChat, including about Falun Gong.

 

In a focused effort to limit the spread of information on WeChat, including about Falun Gong, Chinese authorities issued an updated legal interpretation. On January 26, 2017, the Supreme People’s Court issued a new interpretation for Article 300, the provision of the criminal code commonly used to prosecute and imprison Falun Gong practitioners for practicing their faith or engaging in peaceful activities, such as sharing information about the practice and human rights violations committed against adherents. The interpretation outlined the many activities related to Falun Gong and other banned religious groups that could be punished, such as making phone calls or sharing information on social media applications like WeChat. The minimum punishment is three years in prison.[1] Falun Gong practitioners have long been sentenced to harsh prison terms for exercising their right to free expression, but the new guidance formalized this process. The interpretation included wording such as the following and has since been cited in verdicts when Falun Gong practitioners were jailed for possessing or peacefully disseminating information materials related to the practice:

 

Individuals “shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than seven years and be fined” for possessing mass amounts of Falun Gong-related leaflets, photos, banners, newspapers, spiritual texts, audio tapes, video tapes, CDs, USBs, memory cards, hard disks, or banners. Practitioners can also be heavily punished for using social media like WeChat, Weibo, etc. to send information about Falun Gong and the persecution. They will be punished more severely if their “posts are clicked and viewed more than 5,000 times.”[2]

 

Since January 2020, using its network of sources in China, the website Minghui.org has documented several new cases of WeChat users being detained or prosecuted because they uploaded Falun Gong-related content into private group chats or on social media.

 

  1. Zhai, a 29-year old dance teacher from Liaoning Province took up Falun Gong in 2019. She sent a message to a friend about it on WeChat. She was summoned by the police in early August and warned not to do it again. She was subsequently arrested on August 23, 2019, when she gave an acquaintance a USB drive with information related to Falun Gong on it. She was indicted on February 11, 2020, and is awaiting trial.

  2. Lu Yanling from Jilin Province, passed along otherwise censored information about the coronavirus over WeChat. She practices Falun Gong and was arrested on January 27, 2020 and placed under administrative detention for 15 days.

  3. Chen Geng from Fujian Province sent a WeChat message on February 16, 2020 mentioning Falun Gong. The same day his account was blocked, he was arrested, and his home ransacked; he was sent to Pingtan County Detention Center.

  4. Wang Wenhao and Guo Wenyan: Falun Gong practitioner Wang of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region was monitored on WeChat then arrested in late April 2020; he was held for 20 days. On April 29, Guo Wenyan, from the same WeChat group, was also detained and had her home ransacked. Her niece, who does not practice Falun Gong, was also detained and interrogated. Both were released later that day.

 

Offline surveillance: The 2020 Annual Report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom states, “The Chinese government has created a high-tech surveillance state, utilizing facial recognition and artificial intelligence to monitor religious minorities.” Indeed, the CCP’s high-tech surveillance state is capable of monitoring Chinese citizens anywhere in the country, using a combination of several technology projects such as Skynet and Dazzling Snow. Numerous Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested through the use of these technologies and systems.

 

According to some estimates Skynet could have up to 600 million cameras installed in China—approximately one camera for every two people in the country. Dazzling Snow is the rural counterpart to Skynet and uses cameras to monitor citizens throughout villages and the countryside. Facial recognition technology enables the cameras to quickly identify citizens. Falun Gong practitioners known to police have long been considered targets of detailed surveillance, with their biometrics and other data collected and stored in “key individual” databases for over a decade. This facilitates cross-referencing and identification. On July 15, 2020 (prior to Party leader Xi Jinping’s scheduled visit to the region on July 23), police arrested a female Falun Gong practitioner Gao Xiaoqi at her home in Jilin Province. She had been identified as a practitioner with Skynet’s facial recognition technology because she had previously met with other Falun Gong practitioners in the area, and was sentenced to nine years in prison.[3] [4]

 

Censorship and reprisals reaching outside China

 

Reprisals for overseas tweet: Falun Gong practitioners have also been punished for posts on global social media sites like Twitter, which is blocked in China, even when posting messages outside the country. In October 2021, Song Xiaomei from Liaoning province was arrested and beaten by police because she had tweeted information about the persecution of Falun Gong during a trip to Japan.[5] Song was tracked down by officials upon her return to China and suffered physical, mental, and financial consequences for her tweet.

 

Banned Falun Gong keywords on Chinese-made phones sold globally: Lithuania’s National Cyber Security Center has expressed evidence-driven concerns about cybersecurity regarding Chinese-manufactured phones being used in countries worldwide.[6] On September 21, 2021, the center recommended consumers get rid of Huawei, Xiaomi, and OnePlus devices “as fast as reasonably possible.” Lithuania’s Deputy Defense Minister Margiris Abukevicius “found that the blacklist for the filters contained only politically motivated terms.” The restricted terms included “CCP,” “Taiwan country,” “June 4 student movement,” “Falun Dafa,” and “Free Tibet.” Following Lithuania’s announcement, Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) also began a technical investigation into Xiaomi.

[1] https://www.spp.gov.cn/zdgz/201701/t20170126_179794.shtml

[2] http://www.pucheng.gov.cn/ztzl/2018nzt/cckhfdxj/117744.htm

[3] “WeChat, Facial Recognition in China’s Police State Targets Falun Gong,” Falun Dafa Information Center, https://faluninfo.net/wechat-facial-recognition-in-chinas-police-state-targets-falun-gong/

[4] “Ninety-one Falun Gong Practitioners Sentenced for Their Faith Reported in August 2021 ,” Minghui, September 8, 2021, https://en.minghui.org/html/articles/2021/9/8/194982.html

[5] “Liaoning Woman Faces Trial for Sending Twitter Message about Her Faith,” Minghui, October 9, 2021, https://en.minghui.org/html/articles/2021/10/9/196093.html

[6] “Assessment of cybersecurity of mobile devices supporting 5G technology sold in Lithuania,” NCSC under the MOND Innovation and Training Division,  https://www.nksc.lt/doc/en/analysis/2021-08-23_5G-CN-analysis_env3.pdf