CFP: It was on April 25, 1999, that Falun Gong first gained worldwide attention when some 10,000 adherents petitioned the central government in Beijing. Those gathering asked officials to release 40 practitioners who had recently been subjected to police abuse and unlawfully detained, and called for protection of their right to practice their beliefs in peace.
Falun Gong is a peaceful meditative practice called “qigong” that offers its adherents improved health and well-being through gentle exercises and teachings that espouse the values of truth, compassion, and tolerance. First introduced in 1992 by Mr. Li Hongzhi, the practice quickly grew and even had the support of many Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials in China.
However, a small circle of politicians in China grew leery of Falun Gong as the practice grew increasingly popular. False accusations against the practice began appearing in state-run media in 1996, with Falun Gong books being banned from publication the same year. By 1998 the Chinese government estimated there were over 70 million practitioners in China. Individuals within the Public Security Bureau (PSB) continued escalating infringements upon the group by dispersing members at exercise sessions, searching homes, and confiscating property. Practitioners reported these abuses to the government 18 times between 1998 and 1999 using the form of lawful, nonviolent public appeals.
After a Tianjin-based magazine wrongly accused Falun Gong, some 40 practitioners were violently seized and detained by police when they peacefully voiced their concerns. Tianjin city officials afterward advised practitioners to go to Beijing to express their grievances, since the PSB was involved. Acting in accordance with their constitutional right to assemble and appeal, on April 25, 1999, over 10,000 gathered outside Beijing’s Office of Appeals, located beside Zhongnanhai, home to the Communist Party’s top leadership.
The gathering was peaceful, silent, lawful, and did not obstruct traffic. Practitioners requested the release of those detained in Tianjin, a lifting of the publishing ban, and freedom from police harassment when exercising. Initial talks with then-Premier Zhu Rongji led to a resolution and the release of those detained. However, Zhu’s handling of the situation was later overturned by then-Party head Jiang Zemin, who misrepresented April 25 as “the day that Falun Gong lay siege to the Government.”
In July 1999, Jiang outlawed the practice and began a violent campaign to “eradicate” Falun Gong, leading to large-scale imprisonment, torture, and the deaths of adherents. According to a 2006 report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, 66 percent of reported victims of torture in previous years were Falun Gong practitioners. To date, the deaths of 3,253 practitioners as a result of persecution by the Chinese authorities have been confirmed by the Falun Dafa Information Center.
April 25 was a principled response to police brutality and months of illegal activity by security personnel. What’s tragic is that the lawful, nonviolent gathering was seized upon by the Chinese regime’s head, Jiang Zemin, as an excuse to launch a campaign bent on ‘eradicating’ Falun Gong.
Saturday’s vigils will continue the tradition of peaceful demonstration begun by the Falun Gong on April 25, 1999 renewing calls for the Beijing regime to end a ten-year campaign of suppression. Falun Gong practitioners and their supporters will participate in candlelight vigils and rallies mostly outside Chinese embassies and consulates in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and other cities around the world. Victims of the persecution who have escaped from China and individuals who were present at the original April 25th appeal will be participating in these activities.