As the 12th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) launch of a massive crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual group approaches on July 20, Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that monitors the status of freedom around the world, remains deeply concerned about the ongoing human rights abuses committed against adherents, their families, and increasingly, their lawyers.
"Over the past twelve years, Falun Gong practitioners and their families have suffered greatly at the hands of the Communist Party, simply for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of belief and peaceful expression of their views,” Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Freedom House’s senior program manager for international religious freedom. “In recent years, we've also seen the CCP expanding the repressive tactics used against Falun Gong to others in China, including human rights lawyers."
On July 20, 1999, the Chinese Communist Party, led by Jiang Zemin, initiated a large-scale campaign to wipe out Falun Gong, seeing the spread of the independent spiritual movement as a threat to the CCP's power.
Today, Falun Gong adherents remain among those most severely persecuted in China, alongside Tibetans, Uighurs and other vulnerable minorities. They are targeted for surveillance, imprisonment, and torture, particularly surrounding international events like the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. Tens of thousands of people are estimated to be in detention for their affiliation with Falun Gong, while others face daily challenges like internet censorship and discrimination.
Since early 2011, numerous human rights lawyers who had represented Falun Gong practitioners in court among other cases they took—including Teng Biao, Tang Jitian, and Jiang Tianyong—have been abducted and reportedly tortured, including being beaten and forcibly medicated. Gao Zhisheng, known for publishing open letters documenting the torture of Falun Gong adherents, has been disappeared since April 2010.
Meanwhile, agencies like the extralegal (not regulated or sanctioned by law) 6-10 Office, a CCP security apparatus created in 1999 to implement the crackdown, remain active across China, arbitrarily detaining citizens, interfering with judicial procedures, and undermining rule of law development. In 2010, the central 6-10 Office launched a three-year nationwide campaign to intensify efforts to “transform” Falun Gong adherents, a coercive process typically involving physical and psychological torture aimed at forcing them to renounce their beliefs.
“The ongoing campaign against Falun Gong not only puts innocent people’s lives at risk, but it also undermines the possibility of genuine legal reforms in China,” says Vaughn. “Freedom House calls on the Communist Party to abolish the 6-10 Office and immediately release all Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.”