Tomorrow, July 20th, marks the 10th-year anniversary of the baffling, but ruthless persecution of Falun Gong in China.
Falun Gong, which counts millions of members mostly in China, but also elsewhere in the world, is a holistic practice guided by the principles of “truthfulness, compassion and tolerance”, based on slow-moving exercises and meditation.
Falun Gong has no formal structure and is not a religion, yet it was banned as “an evil cult” in China ten years ago by then Chinese Communist Party president Jiang Zemin. It is believed Jiang felt threatened by the growing popularity of the practice. It is banned only in China, but practiced freely in 80 countries.
On July 20th 1999, hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners were dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, and over the next few days tens of thousands were detained throughout China. When all the police stations and detention centres were full, many were held in sports stadiums and other public facilities.
“Like any normal day, I went to do Falun Gong exercises in Yuyuantan Park in the centre of Beijing at 6am,” says Cambridge resident Jingwen Wang, who lived in Beijing at the time. “I heard the government had banned Falun Gong, so I decided to appeal. At 7am I arrived at the Appeals Office, but I was swiftly forced onto a coach, along with other practitioners. After driving a long time, we arrived at Shijingshangymnasium. There were already about 4,000 practitioners there. It was very hot, about 37 degrees. Thousands of people stayed there without any water, food or fresh air for the whole day.”Since then, hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong followers have been imprisoned in labour camps and prisons across the country. They account for the largest single population of prisoners of conscience in China, according to Amnesty International. Tens of thousands have been tortured and over 3,200 have lost their lives. Millions others face destitution, job loss, expulsion from school and other form of discrimination.
Annie Yang, a former antique trader in Beijing who now lives in London, was arrested in 2005 and sent to two years in labour camp for being a member of Falun Gong.
“Every day I was forced to sit for over 18 hours, in a strict sitting posture: both legs and knees pressed tightly against each other; both hands rested over the knees, the back kept straight, and eyes open. After a week or two, many people’s bottoms started to rot. After endless days of both mental and physical persecution my eyesight became bad and my memory weak. My hair turned white and mentally I almost reached total collapse. Every day the only thing I thought about, when I was able to have a moment to think, was how to end my life. Was it better to smash my head on a radiator or to drink washing powder?”Now, ten years later, the brutal repression shows no signs of abating.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the Falun Gong repression and attract attention to their plight, members are staging a press conference at noon at Westminster in London and a peaceful protest in Parliament Square all day-long. They are also hosting an art exhibition nearby in Palmer Room, 1 Great George Street, SW1 3AA from 11 am to 4 pm. The exhibit Uncompromising Courage, which has toured more than 40 countries since 2004, portrays the beauty of the traditional Chinese meditation practice, Falun Gong, and at the same time depicts the personal experiences of the artists and others who have been persecuted under the Chinese Communist Party."