Trend: Harassment Increased Amid Pandemic

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(Pictured: Xu Na, artist and Falun Gong practitioner, widowed by the CCP's persecution and sentenced to eight years in February 2022 for sharing photos of the pandemic response in Beijing.)

In 2020, many documented cases indicated that practitioners were harassed or arrested not simply for practicing Falun Gong, but also to ensure they would not expose the COVID-19 situation on the ground inside China. This matches a pattern seen for many years, where Chinese officials would clamp down on the Falun Gong community to prevent anyone from exposing events happening inside China to the rest of the world.

 

Communications with the outside world stifled: Falun Gong practitioners run the largest underground media and information network inside China.[1] It produces more than a dozen reports everyday that are published on overseas websites, such as Minghui and Pure Insight. Given this expansive network, the CCP is silencing practitioners during sensitive dates and dictatorial clampdowns to cover-up their crimes and authoritarian actions.

 

Persecution grew despite the health crisis: In 2019, there were 3,582 cases of harassment, 6,109 cases of arrests, 775 cases of sentences, and 98 deaths. But these numbers increased dramatically over the pandemic. Despite lockdown and quarantine restrictions, the efforts to suppress Falun Gong have continued unabated since early 2020. With the onset of the pandemic, the Chinese security apparatus has escalated its crackdown on Falun Gong, particularly in terms of harassment and in 2021, prison sentences and deaths from abuse in custody.[2] In 2020, at least 9,159 Falun Gong practitioners were harassed, 6,925 were arrested, 622 were sentenced to prison for their faith, and 83 were killed.[3] In 2021, a total of 9,332 reports of harassment, 5,152 cases of arrest, 1,372 sentencings, and 180 deaths were confirmed. From January to March 2022, 191 harassment cases, 271 arrests and 21 deaths were reported.

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The increase from 2019 to 2020 and 2021 is especially apparent in the first half of each year (Q1 and Q2). January through June 2019 recorded 3,383 arrest and harassment cases, compared to the same period in 2020 (5,952 reports[4]); a nearly 100% increase. The first half of 2021 recorded 3,291 arrests and 6,179 harassed.[5] Compared to January through June 2019, this period in 2021 (9,470 reports) nearly tripled the 2019 numbers. However, due to the risks and difficulties of confirming the details of each case and sending that information overseas, it is widely believed that the actual number is much higher.[6]

 

While some cities of China were in sporadic lockdowns throughout 2020, harassments and arrests continued to escalate. However, with courts closed, sentencings stagnated. This pattern was broken once restrictions opened up in November 2020. From that month on, Falun Gong sentencing cases escalated sharply.

 

In January and February 2022, Hebei Province topped the list of regions with the highest concentration of repression cases at 102 reports. These numbers were primarily because the Winter Olympic Games venues were located in Zhangjiakou City, Hebei Province. Under the guise of securing the area in preparation for international competition, there was a spike in deaths and arrests of Falun Gong adherents in Zhangjiakou and Beijing. There is sufficient evidence to suggest Chinese officials repeated their despotic tactics from the 2008 Olympics in 2022 to silence potential dissent from the Falun Gong community and other spiritual and minority groups.

 

Two hundred and sixty-four reports document practitioners dying from torture or abuse since January 1, 2020. The authoritative silencing of this community is one channel that the CCP uses to suppress the free flow of information surrounding the health crisis.

Two COVID-19 whistleblowers that were punished heavily for their information dissemination are worth highlighting: Ms . Xu Na and Mr. Fang Bin.

Ms. Xu Na

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On July 19, 2020, Xu was arrested along with 10 Falun Gong practitioners in Beijing for publishing photos of Beijing devastated by the coronavirus online. Their lawyers were denied certain rights protected by Chinese law, including copying court documents, requesting court documents, as well as being present during important case proceedings. She was indicted on April 2nd, 2021. Her husband, Yu Zhou, was tortured to death in 2008 at the Beijing City Tongzhou District Detention Center. Xu was detained at Beijing Women's Prison until her sentencing on January 14, 2022. Her current whereabouts are unknown. The U.S. Department of State, Freedom House, and others have called for Xu's immediate release.

CSW's Founder and President Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW condemns the sentencing of Falun Gong artist Xu Na, who, like Fang Bin and Zhang Zhan, has been targeted for risking her own personal safety to reveal the truth in a time of crisis. We call for her immediate and unconditional release, and for the release of all those detained for the sharing of information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also call on the Chinese government to respect its international legal obligations and end the persecution of the Falun Gong, including by immediately and unconditionally releasing all those detained in connection with their religion or belief, including Falun Gong practitioners.”

Mr. Fang Bin

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Fang Bin was one of the most famed whistleblowers who reported the truth of transpired events in Wuhan in those crucial first months of the pandemic.[7] He provided video footage of overcrowded Wuhan hospitals, showing the piles upon piles of body bags as early as January 25, 2020, for the world to see. After it was filmed, he disseminated it outside of China through YouTube, a blocked platform in mainland China.

His footage was covered by the likes of BBC, CNN, The New York Times, Human Rights Watch, Radio Free Asia, NBC News and South China Morning Post. In February, after a week of police threats and harassment, Fang disappeared. Nearly two years later, he is reportedly alive in Jiang'an Detention Center. He was previously detained for over four years and egregiously tortured for his faith in Falun Gong.

[1] “Statistics & Evidence,” Falun Dafa Information Center, https://faluninfo.net/key-statistics-related-to-falun-gong/

[2] Larry Liu, “During pandemic, police in China detain those trying to share hope and faith,” LICAS News, April 17, 2020, https://www.licas.news/2020/04/17/during-pandemic-police-in-china-detain-those-trying-to-share-hope-and-faith/

[3] “U.S. State Department 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom: China,” U.S. Department of State, May 12, 2021, https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/

[4] “15,235 Falun Gong Practitioners Targeted for Their Faith in 2020,” Minghui, January 18, 2021, https://en.minghui.org/html/articles/2021/1/18/189976.html

[5] “1,963 Falun Gong Practitioners Reported Arrested and Harassed in September and October 2021,” Minghui,  November 18, 2021, https://en.minghui.org/html/articles/2021/11/18/196629.html

[6] “Statistics & Evidence,” Falun Dafa Information Center,  https://faluninfo.net/key-statistics-related-to-falun-gong/

[7] “Fang Bin, COVID-19 Whistleblower and Falun Gong Practitioner, Detained in Wuhan,” Falun Dafa Information Center, https://faluninfo.net/fang-bin/