Abuse of law

“The PRC government acted outside of its constitutional authority, violated citizens’ basic rights, and overstepped its own boundaries in its war against Falun Gong and its practitioners.”

— Edelman and Richardson [1]

Violations of China's laws

When Jiang Zemin wanted to take action against Falun Gong, it did not matter to him that relevant provisions were non-existent or that the measures he called for were unconstitutional. He launched the persecution campaign and later created the "laws" to support his actions. The campaign against Falun Gong is a continuing reminder of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) ability to override the constitution.

Besides the much-touted recent addition of a provision stating that “the state respects and upholds human rights” (Article 33), the PRC Constitution contains 16 other provisions outlining specific rights and freedoms. These include the right to freedom of religion (Article 36), the right to freedom of expression (Article 35), and the right to education (Article 46). There are also articles prohibiting unlawful detention (Article 37) and violence against women, children, and the elderly (Article 49).

In the persecution of Falun Gong, each one of the above articles has been breached. The violations have not been limited to the constitution either. As Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng points out, in its treatment of Falun Gong, the CCP has ignored provisions of the Chinese penal code, as well as general principles of law, like the prohibition on retroactive legislation (news). In its report, Human Rights Watch similarly pointed to what it termed a “rule of law veneer”, highlighting that the legislation cited by Chinese officials as the legal basis for the ban was in fact passed in October 1999, a full three months after the persecution was launched (news).

Violations of international treaties

For those familiar with China’s human rights record, it may come as a surprise that in recent decades the CCP has signed or ratified the vast majority of all key international human rights treaties. Indeed, the regime proudly cites being a “member of 21 international conventions on human rights” on the website of its permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva.

In the face of these legal obligations, the campaign against Falun Gong raises serious questions. Among the major instruments the CCP has ratified are the 1948 Genocide Convention, the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the 1984 Convention against Torture, and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since 1999, however, the regime has systematically breached a broad range of the international provisions in its efforts to wipe out Falun Gong. This includes violating rights that immediately come to mind such the right to live, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and the right to be free from torture.

A complete list of international treaties the CCP has acceded to and the ways in which these have been mocked in the persecution of Falun Gong is  available here.

Complicity of China's judicary

The Chinese judiciary is not independent, but rather subject to the control of the leadership of the CCP. All judges are Party members and are appointed and removed by the Party. The judges’ job security, therefore, often depend on their compliance with Party instructions, certainly when it comes to sensitive cases. It is for these reasons that once CCP leader Jiang Zemin banned Falun Gong, the Chinese court system emerged not as a bulwark against injustice, but as a tool of repression (see the report by the International Commission of Jurists).

In October 1999, three months after the overt persecution campaign was launched, the Supreme People’s Court began issuing directives to lower courts with instructions as to how they must collaborate in the campaign against Falun Gong. The following month, the Supreme People’s Court ordered judges to fulfil their role by “resolutely imposing severe punishment”. One week later, the first “trial” of Falun Gong practitioners took place in Hainan Province. At the end of a hearing that lasted less than one day, all four practitioners were sentenced to terms of up to 12 years in prison on the vague charges of “using a heretical organisation to undermine the implementation of the law”. Hundreds of others have since been jailed for to up to 18 years (for a chart of charges and sentences, see Amnesty International’s report).

The vast majority of Falun Gong adherents who have been jailed, however, never even appeared before a judge. Instead, they were sentenced to up to three years of administrative detention in “re-education through labour” camps.

“the real power structure in China is not to be found anywhere in the constitution. Real power lies in the hands of the Communist Party.” — Daniel Chow, Chinese law expert [2]


[1] B Edelman and JT Richardson, Falun Gong and the Law: Development of Legal Social Control in China, Nova Religio, Vol. 6, No. 2, April 2003, pp. 312-331, 312.

[2] D Chow, The Legal System of the People’s Republic of China (St. Paul, 2003), p114.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Edmund Burke




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