Chinese authorities have alleged that "the practice of Falun Gong has led to more than 1,400 deaths" of its followers. Although Falun Gong was widely practised in China throughout the 1990s, this claim was only first made in July 1999, after the regime had commenced the persecution of Falun Gong. The claim has been repeated by communist party publications and spokespersons since. It is meant to undermine support for Falun Gong practitioners, who are regularly victims of severe rights violations in China, including unlawful detention, deprivation of constitutional rights, forced labour, and torture, the latter of which has resulted in 4213 documented deaths).
In the '90s, millions of Chinese started to practise Falun Gong because they heard about its extraordinary health benefits. Chinese government institutions, media and the national sports committee accelerated the spread of Falun Gong by praising its effect on a person's health (see timeline). When the Party wanted to destroy Falun Gong in 1999, it had problems justifying this and getting public support for the persecution, because of the reputation Falun Gong had earned in society. A huge amount of propaganda was fabricated, including the alleged 1,400 deaths.
The problem is that no independent investigation into these “deaths” was ever allowed. Where individuals have managed to investigate, cases of alleged Falun Gong-induced "deaths" have been found to be fabricated, with in some instances the victim never having existed. Nor have such "deaths" ever occurred outside of communist China, where Falun Gong is practised freely.
The issue of the 1,400 deaths is even more surprising. In the beginning of 1999, the Chinese government estimated the number of Falun Gong practitioners to be 70-100 million (see timeline of the lead-up to the persecution). Assuming the propaganda is true and even that these deaths occurred in one year, one concludes that the population of Falun Gong practitioners has the lowest death rate in the world (see analysis). For example, a country like Germany with about 80 million inhabitants, comparable to the number of Falun Gong practitioners, has a death rate of about 880,000 people per year.
Influence of this propaganda in China and abroad
Falun Gong adherents in China continue to be subjected to a litany of documented human rights abuses. Various misrepresentations of Falun Gong and its members spawned by Chinese communist officials and publications, seek to discredit the group (portraying it as dangerous, misguided, or nefarious) and undermine support in the free world. Inside China in particular, propaganda surrounding the "1,400 deaths" has played a central role in fostering disgust and animosity toward Falun Gong among a large segment of the population.