When the Communist Party launched the campaign against Falun Gong, among the first measures taken was to instruct lawyers not to defend practitioners. Indeed, in the early years of the persecution, it was incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for Falun Gong practitioners to find genuine legal representation. This has changed in recent years, however, as a generation of lawyers and rights defenders have defied Party directives and taken the cases of Falun Gong adherents.
Among the first lawyers representing Falun Gong practitioners in court was the forthright Gao Zhisheng. Since then, more than twelve lawyers followed in his footsteps. They risked their lives by calling into question the fundamental basis of the entire policy against Falun Gong, protesting it as a violation of Chinese citizens’ freedom of belief.
In response to their efforts, Gao and other rights defenders have themselves faced persecution at the hands of the authorities and have been subjected to disbarment, detention, beatings, torture and in at least one case, exile. Despite such risks, many have continued to defend Falun Gong.