United States: Falun Gong Practitioners Attend a Seminar on Freedom of the Press at the University of Minnesota

On November 17, 2003, the University of Minnesota's Chapter of the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars (FACSS) held a seminar to discuss the importance of the freedom of the press and how to improve it in China. Falun Gong practitioners were invited to give a speech. During his speech, Falun Gong practitioner Mr. Erping Zhang pointed out that the media controlled by Jiang's regime has played an extremely important role in the persecution of Falun Gong. The slanderous lies, false charges and framing of practitioners and blocking all channels of legitimate information has caused an already morally deteriorating Chinese press to become totally corrupt.

Many scholars, professors, engineers, reporters and students attended this seminar. The attendees had a very lively discussion, and they felt very happy to be a part of the seminar where one could speak openly and freely, as this is almost impossible in China.

During the eight years before the persecution of Falun Gong started in 1999, Falun Gong was widely promoted by the Chinese government because of its amazing effectiveness in healing and fitness. The media, including TV and radio, reported positive stories about Falun Gong, and the government also issued awards and proclamations to honour Falun Gong. Many national institutions organised people to learn Falun Gong. Mr. Zhang learnt Falun Gong at an institution of foreign affairs when he went back to China to visit his family. What deeply impressed Mr. Zhang was two health surveys regarding Falun Gong conducted by national medical workers, which highly praised Falun Gong's healing effects. Even in other countries, the Chinese Consulates assisted in holding Falun Gong seminars or experience sharing conferences. At that time, Falun Gong was spread as a part of Chinese traditional culture and a source of pride.

Mr. Zhang said that eight years later, the April 25th incident, which was the prelude of this persecution, actually started from media reports that distorted facts. After his attempt to publish an article slandering Falun Gong in Beijing, He Zuoxiu, a brother-in-law of Luo Gan, found another magazine in Tianjin to publish his article. During the Tianjin incident, the Falun Gong practitioners kindly explained the facts to the magazine's publishers. Originally, the problem was resolved, and the magazine office expressed their apologies. However, following orders from higher authorities, police officers beat and arrested some practitioners. Later, on April 25, what the 10,000 practitioners wanted to visit was the appeal office. They had no intention of surrounding the Zhongnanhai complex. Because these two were next door to each other, and there were so many people, it was the police officers who arranged the queue. The practitioners only appealed to the government to grant them the very basic rights to freely practise Falun Gong and to allow Falun Gong books to be published. The Premier at the time came out to talk with the practitioners and he was warmly applauded. No one had the intention to oppose the government. They trusted the government and hoped that the government could support the common people. The Premier's reasonable handling of this matter led to the Falun Gong practitioners peacefully leaving, and it was a resolution that was widely praised by the international community. However, later in a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, Jiang made the decision to oppress Falun Gong out of jealousy and paranoia. He made enemies out of the common people, who have no political ambitions or ulterior motives at all. This led to the Chinese state-run media's all-out efforts to slander and demonize Falun Gong.

Mr. Zhang further pointed out that the Chinese media has emptied its bag of tricks in slandering Falun Gong. The staged "Tiananmen Square Self-immolation" incident was the worst case of this. A little girl was able to sing after her throat was cut open. A person was severely burned, but a plastic bottle supposedly filled with gasoline was completely fine. Third-party technical analysis of the original footage presented by the Chinese Central TV showed that Ms. Liu Chunling died of a blow to the head instead of fire. After the incident, a reporter from the Washington Post personally went to Ms. Liu Chunling's hometown, Kaifeng City, Henan Province to do an investigation, and found that Liu and her daughter never practised Falun Gong. The Washington Post carried a detailed report regarding this. Recently, a video program, "False Fire", produced by New Tang Dynasty TV, won Honourable Mention at the 51st Columbus International Film and Video Festival. This video program carefully analysed the Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident.

Mr. Zhang said that right after the self-immolation incident, we called upon reporters from other countries and international organisations to independently investigate this case. Many reporters also expressed that if the self-immolation was real, the Chinese government should support western reporters to gather the news and report on it. However, the Chinese authorities only allowed the Xinhua News Agency, People's Daily, and CCTV to report the incident. The Chinese government blocked information about the spread of SARS and several recent self-immolation cases where the people set themselves on fire after their houses were torn down. The media's reaction was completely different from their near real-time report on the Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident two years ago.

Mr. Zhang also answered some questions regarding Falun Gong. Most attendees felt that it was a very basic moral issue whether one could stand up to speak for justice after seeing a totalitarian government persecuting such a peaceful group of people who practise meditation. Falun Gong practitioners have been holding a peaceful resistance to the persecution for four years, which is unprecedented in Chinese history.

When answering questions regarding whether Falun Gong is involved in politics and whether it is an anti-China force, Mr. Zhang said that if the government did not start this persecution, there would be no need for today's peaceful appeal. If you said that people who played basketball were part of a cult, then everyone who plays basketball would get together to oppose this. There is nothing wrong with asking for support to uphold justice and appeal for basic human rights. On July 20, 1999, when the persecution started, Falun Gong practitioners from all over the world peacefully practised the Falun Gong exercises in Washington DC under the scorching sun. Some were elderly people, while some carried their infants with them. If it were not for this persecution, who would imagine that we would overcome so many hardships and bear so much to clarify the facts to all kind-hearted people to seek support? If such peaceful actions are labelled with the name of getting involved with politics, do we still have any basic rights?

Some rumours said that Falun Gong was an anti-China force outside China, but in reality Qigong, a cultivation practise passed down from ancient times, is part of the 5000-year Chinese traditional culture. This is what the Jiang regime opposes. Falun Gong has received broad support from different countries, people and organisations. The principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance are universal principles. Isn't it a pity that a great nation's morality and culture are demonized in the country where it originated, but is widely honoured and embraced in other countries?

When talking about the Falun Gong issue, another attendee, Dr. Gong Xiaoxia, said that the government's brutality is unforgivable. Everyone, including elementary students, was forced to express opinions on the Falun Gong issue in line with the government, a tactic that was widely employed in the Cultural Revolution. In China, people are forced to lie in public and only dare to speak the truth to their family and friends. This is really dangerous and worrisome, because the moral foundation of the entire society and country has been eroded and worn away.

A former president of the University of Minnesota Chapter of FACSS expressed that one could only talk about the freedom of press in China on a very low starting point, because when there is no guarantee of the validity of the news and there is no right to know the truth, how can people even think about discussing the country's major issues openly? We need to be able to speak out openly against the persecution of Falun Gong.

Some people said that China's Internet blockade has reached an absurd level. Recent regulations insist that China's electronic information department will store 3 months worth of cell phone information, and 36 keywords and their combinations regarding Falun Gong are entirely blocked.

During the seminar, attendees had a lively discussion. Although they had much criticism over the Chinese media, they also hoped that people in the media outside China could do their best to improve the freedom of the press in China.

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