New York – Responding to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party, the Russian authorities are increasingly suppressing the rights of citizens who practise Falun Gong in Russia.
In the most recent development, four Falun Gong practitioners were detained in Vladivostok on Friday at a local printing shop as they were picking up flyers that expose the persecution of Falun Gong in China. One copy of the practice’s main text Zhuan Falun and the flyers were confiscated. This occurred shortly after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal to remove Zhuan Falun from a list of banned materials, and just weeks before the city hosts an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders summit to be attended by top Chinese officials.
“The effort to ban Zhuan Falun in Russia sadly falls on the heels of dealings between Russia and China. We also have no doubt it has been encouraged during interactions with high-ranking Chinese officials who spearhead the brutal persecution campaign against Falun Gong inside China,” says Falun Dafa Information Centre Executive Director Levi Browde. “Clearly, the Chinese Communist Party is behind this – why else would Russia move so quickly to ban a book that teaches people to live according to truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance?”
The Falun Dafa Information Centre urges the Russian authorities to resist Chinese pressure and for other members of the international community to publicly condemn these actions in order to protect the freedom of religion and expression of Russian citizens. The European Union has raised the case with Russian authorities during bilateral human rights meetings.
“I am very concerned about the case of Falun Gong practitioners in Russia, as well as about the broader implications it entails,” wrote European Commission Vice President Catherine Ashton in a February 2012 letter to members of the European Parliament.
Falun Gong is practised freely in over 70 countries, but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) routinely either interferes directly or tries to pressure other governments to restrict the rights of Falun Gong practitioners outside China. The CCP thus seeks to justify the persecution in China and limit overseas efforts to expose abuses.
According to Mr Chen Yonglin, a former high-ranking official with the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney, Australia who defected to the West in 2005, every Chinese mission around the world has staff dedicated to suppressing and stifling Falun Gong practitioners in the host country.
In 2002, the Russian government passed a law prohibiting “extremist” materials, prompting fears that the law would be interpreted vaguely and used to suppress freedom of speech. This indeed appears to be happening. In August 2008, a regional court declared several Falun Gong-related materials to be “extremist literature.” These included Zhuan Falun, a prominent research report on the harvesting of organs from Falun Gong practitioners, and leaflets for the “Global Human Rights Torch Relay,” an initiative to protest suppression ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
Since then, under apparent government pressure, several courts have rejected appeals to overturn the decision. The proceedings have typically involved procedural irregularities, according to the Washington DC-based Human Rights Law Foundation (Fact sheet ). On July 5th, Russia’s Supreme Court rejected another appeal, but did not immediately notify those who lodged it. They learned of the decision on July 20th when it was posted to the court’s website. Lawyers representing the local Falun Gong community have applied to the European Court of Human Rights for redress.
“We urge the Russian government to take the necessary measures to reverse this decision,” says Sergey Skulkin of the Russian Falun Gong Association. “The book Zhuan Falun has sold over 100,000 copies in Russia, indicating the level of interest among the public. This decision affects not only the several thousand active Falun Gong practitioners in Russia, but every Russian citizen. Why should they be deprived of the opportunity to study a practice that has brought health, peace of mind and other benefits to hundreds of millions of people around the world?”
The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision could potentially be severe. Publishers may not continue printing the book. Stores may not sell it. Those possessing it risk arrest. Indeed, since May 2012, local Falun Gong practitioners – the vast majority native Russians – have reported experiencing increased harassment and surveillance by the authorities.
Violations of Falun Gong practitioners’ religious freedom have further escalated since the July 5th decision. In the most extreme incident, on July 27th, police in Vladivostok arrested four people as they were picking up Falun Gong flyers at a print shop, confiscating the texts along with other Falun Gong-related materials. When the practitioners inquired about the reason, the police chief linked it to the recent court decision.