After 13 years of persecution by the Chinese communist regime, 3,574 Falun Gong practitioners are confirmed dead. To mark the solemn anniversary, Falun Gong gathered on the West Lawn of the Capitol on Thursday, July 12, with over a thousand in attendance. Dozens of political and human rights leaders who could not attend sent in letters of support.
"I deeply wish I could join you for this important rally and, like all of you assembled today, it is my hope and prayer that this will be the last we will have to hold on behalf of the millions of peaceful Falun Gong practitioners in China," wrote Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a U.S. federal government commission.
"These brave and decent people have faced persecution, abduction, torture, and even death for the simple reason that they have chosen to exercise their universal and inalienable right to freedom of religion and belief," the letter continued. Swett is also President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice, a Washington-based NGO.
A number of congressional members cited the Department of State's 2011 Human Rights Report, which refers to reports of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners.
"Free countries around the world must band together and oppose this persecution, and oppose the oppressive tactics of the Chinese government," wrote Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-MO), Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.
Congressman Wally Herger (R-CA), Chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, wrote that the human rights violations against Falun Gong are "repulsive," and continued that: "I believe the United States and other freedom-loving countries should boldly expose and condemn them."
As such, Senator Robert Menendez (D, NJ), Chairman of the Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development, writes that "Speaking out against human rights violations and focusing the world's attention on critical human rights issues is the only way to bring an end to these abusive behaviors." Menendez did his part by introducing Senate Resolution 232 which discusses the persecution and the Tuidang movement.
Tuidang is an emerging non-violent movement in China that encourages Chinese citizens to renounce their ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Participation in the movement means that a person makes a public declaration that he or she wishes to disavow any previous ties with the CCP or its affiliated organizations.
Many of the congressional members were hopeful. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Chairman on the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, a longtime supporter of human rights in China and prominent critic of the CCP, wrote: "I pray for the day, and it will come, when true freedom, democracy, and respect for basic human rights and religious freedom sweeps through China."
And significant cracks are starting to appear in the Chinese regime's hold on power.
"China is on the verge of major social changes," says Falun Dafa Information Center spokesperson Erping Zhang. "A lot of people feel this year may be the end of the communists because the ideology of communism seems to be on the brink of bankruptcy."
On Friday, July 13, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners from around the world proudly marched through the nation's capital, reminding the world of not only 13 years of persecution in China, but the depth of their conviction in facing such oppression.
Pennsylvania Avenue came alive as row after row of participants, led by the blue-uniformed Celestial Marching Band, marched through downtown D.C. carrying banners, flags, and placards. One section of the parade was made up of women in white dresses, each carrying a flower-wreathed picture of one of the more than 3,500 Falun Gong practitioners killed by China's communist regime.
Holding one of the banners, Birgit Braun said she had traveled from Germany to D.C. knowing that at home she could practice her beliefs freely, but in China people could not.
"The Communist Party of China does not allow any belief or religions," she said. "They are persecuting Falun Gong in a very bad way and they don't have the right to do this."
Since he started the practice ten years ago, Hans He, from Canada, has been coming to D.C. every year to participate in Falun Gong events and rallies. This year, he said things feel different.
"There is a big change coming, you can feel it. They [the Chinese people] know the truth about Falun Gong now and they know what the CCP has been doing," he said.
The Global Service Center for Quitting the Chinese Communist Party is at the front line of the Tuidang movement, with its staff facilitating the renunciation statements from Chinese around the world.
Global Center president Rong Yi said the pace of renunciations of the Party had picked up, with 60,000 now occurring daily. The movement "will decide the CCP's future," she said. "This is the people's choice. They choose no CCP."