RIC Query - China (25 February 2004)


China

Response to Information Request Number: CHN04002.SND
Date: February 25, 2004
Subject: China: Information on Treatment of Family and Relatives of Falun Gong Adherents
From: USCIS Resource Information Center
Keywords: China / Freedom of religion

Query:

Provide information on the treatment of family and relatives of Falun Gong adherents

Response:

SUMMARY

According to outside observers, Chinese authorities at times have pressured family and relatives of Falun Gong practitioners to isolate the practitioners from other adherents, sometimes harassing family members who refuse to comply. At the same time, these sources tend to have little independent information on the extent to which Chinese officials resort to this tactic as they seek to repress the spiritual movement, which formally became state policy in 2001.

The only specific reports of harassment of family members come mainly from the Falun Gong movement itself. The Falun Gong web site provides accounts of family members allegedly being arrested in order to pressure adherents who are wanted by authorities into surrendering, or otherwise punished for the adherents' Falun Gong activities. To the extent that these accounts are accurate, however, it is unclear whether they are part of a systemic national practice or are the work of zealous local officials.

BACKGROUND

While lacking independent reports that match the detail in the Falun Gong's reporting on the issue, China watchers generally agree that Beijing has in recent years used family members to pressure Falun Gong adherents.

A China researcher for Amnesty International told the Resource Information Center (RIC) in a telephone interview that Falun Gong sources and Amnesty's own research suggest that family members of practitioners are at times pressured and harassed by local officials. The researcher noted that collective punishment is at times used by Chinese authorities to put pressure on both political and religious dissidents. She said, however, that Amnesty International lacks independent accounts of specific cases of harassment of family or relatives of Falun Gong practitioners (AI 14 Nov 2003).

The U.S. State Department's human rights report on China for 2002, while reporting that Chinese authorities still jail and torture Falun Gong adherents who refuse to recant, stated that the more common tactic has been, "to make local officials, family members, and employers of known practitioners responsible for preventing FLG [Falun Gong] activities by their family members or associates" (U.S. DOS 31 Mar 2003).

The report, however, did not describe precisely how authorities hold family members responsible for the activities of Falun Gong practitioners. Moreover, a China specialist at the State Department's Country Reports and Asylum Affairs office told the RIC that it is unclear as of early 2004 whether Chinese officials still use family members to pressure Falun Gong adherents (U.S. DOS/DRL 18 Feb 2004).

The use of family members to pressure practitioners to curb their Falun Gong activities became official policy at a February 2001 meeting of senior party leaders from across China. The leaders ordered provincial and municipal officials to pressure practitioners to renounce their beliefs, jail those who refused to recant, and make family members and employers responsible for helping to isolate practitioners from other adherents. Local officials also were told to prevent Falun Gong adherents from traveling to Beijing to take part in protests (U.S. DOS 31 Mar 2003, Hutzler 26 Apr 2001, HRW 2002). Human Rights Watch said in a 2002 report that authorities were actively enforcing the collective responsibility system, though provided few specific details (HRW 2002).

While the Falun Gong had been banned in 1999 after staging a massive, peaceful protest outside the leadership compound in Beijing, authorities in many areas initially tolerated low-key Falun Gong practice. The tougher approach to the Falun Gong in 2001 came after five purported adherents attempted to set themselves on fire in Beijing's Tiananmen Square that January (Hutzler 26 Apr 2001). More recently, the anti-Falun Gong push appears to be abating somewhat, according to a researcher with the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington (Congressional 17 Nov 2003).

The RIC found only three independent accounts of family members allegedly being harassed because of the activities of Falun Gong practitioners. The most serious case involved the wife of a Falun Gong adherent who reportedly died in prison, allegedly as a result of torture. The woman, Zhou Fengling, was arrested in late 2002 along with her husband, Yang Chanrong, according to a 2003 report by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The wording of the report suggests that only the husband was a known Falun Gong practitioner. In its reply to the UN body, though, the Chinese Government claimed that both husband and wife were engaged in "illegal Falun Gong activities" and denied the torture allegation (UN 4 Jan 2003).

Amnesty International said in 2002 that a woman in the northeastern city of Mudanjiang reportedly was detained after she helped to publicize the plight of her younger sister, a Falun Gong practitioner who was detained in a Beijing labor camp. Amnesty said that while the older sister, Luo Zhen, reportedly is not a Falun Gong practitioner, she and her family had been "visited and harassed" by the police following the detention in Beijing of the younger sister, Luo Rong (AI 29 Nov 2002).

In another case, the WALL STREET JOURNAL reported in 2000 that a Falun Gong adherent in the eastern Chinese city of Weifang, where the crackdown on Falun Gong has been particularly severe, had been killed by police after her family refused to pay a $241 fine in order to secure her release from custody. Under pressure from the authorities, the family had already paid other fines and expenses related to the detention of the adherent, Chen Zixiu. Under heavy pressure to prevent Falun Gong practitioners from traveling to protests in Beijing, Weifang police as of late 2000 had killed at least 11 adherents, including Chen Zixiu, according to a Pulitzer-winning series on the Falun Gong by JOURNAL correspondent Ian Johnson. At the time, 77 such deaths had occurred throughout all of China (Johnson 26 Dec 2000, 20 Apr 2000).

The Falun Gong web site (clearwisdom.net) carried at least 11 purported eyewitness accounts during the first ten months of 2003 alone, of family members and relatives of Falun Gong adherents allegedly being harassed. They described family members being arrested, questioned by police, or threatened with the loss of jobs, or having money withheld from their wages. The alleged arrests in particular¿ supposedly combined, in one case, with torture¿ were used as a means of coercing the surrender of Falun Gong adherents whom police were seeking to arrest (Clearwisdom.net 28 Jan 2003, 6 Feb 2003, 26 Mar 2003, 11 May 2003, 5 Jun 2003, 5 Jul 2003, 21 Jul 2003, 25 Apr 2003, 29 Aug 2003, 12 Sep 2003, 30 Sep 2003).

A Canada-based professor who has studied the Falun Gong movement, but who lacks independent evidence of harassment of family members, said that the reports publicized by the movement appear to be credible. Still, the professor suggested that most harassment of family members of adherents is probably relatively subtle. "My impression is that the harassment of relatives consists less of torture and physical threats, and more of discrimination and threats to livelihood," the professor said in an email to the RIC (Professor 20 Feb 2004).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References:

Amnesty International (AI). Telephone interview with China researcher (London: 14 Nov 2003).

Amnesty International (AI). "Fear for Safety/Fear of Torture or Ill-treatment/Medical Concern/Incommunicado Detention," Urgent Action Alert 346/02 (29 Nov 2002).

Clearwisdom.net. "A Dafa Practitioner's Brother and Sister Nobly Help Practitioners and Resist Persecution" (posted 6 Feb 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/2/6/31783.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "Authorities in Wei County Arrest Family Members and Hold Them Hostage to Force the Return of Falun Gong Practitioners" (posted 29 Aug 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/8/29/39587.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "Families Suffer Because of the Policy that Implicates Relatives of Falun Dafa Practitioners" (posted 5 Jul 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/7/5/37767.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "More Than Ten Relatives of a Dafa Practitioner Kidnapped" (posted 30 Sep 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/9/30/40833.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "Police Hold Pregnant Relative as Hostage, Hide in the Cemetery to Ambush and Arrest Falun Gong Practitioner" (posted 11 May 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/5/11/35507.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "Police in Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province Hold Falun Dafa Practitioner's Husband as a Hostage" (posted 12 Sep 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/9/12/40170.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "Police Kidnap Over Twenty Practitioners in Jianping County, Liaoning Province" (posted 28 Jan 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/2/6/31796.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "Police of Mainland China Openly Intimidate and Persecute Family Members of Falun Gong Practitioners" (posted 21 Jul 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/7/21/38336.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "Policemen Hold Dafa Practitioners' Relatives Hostage in Sanhe City, Hebei Province" (posted 25 Apr 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/4/25/34886.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "Recent Crimes Committed By Police in Qiqihar City, Heilongjiang Province" (posted 5 Jun 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/6/5/36531.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Clearwisdom.net. "Ruthless Persecution of Three Sisters Who Practice Falun Gong Results in Li Huiqi's Whole-Body Paralysis" (posted 26 Mar 2003), http://clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2003/3/26/33808.html [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Congressional-Executive Commission on China (Congressional). Telephone interview with Commission representative (Washington, DC: 17 Nov 2003).

Human Rights Watch (HRW). DANGEROUS MEDITATION: CHINA'S CAMPAIGN AGAINST FALUN GONG (2002), http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/china/China0102-02.htm#P331_49488 [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

Hutzler, Charles. WALL STREET JOURNAL, "Beijing is Breaking Down Spiritual Group" (26 Apr 2001).

Johnson, Ian. WALL STREET JOURNAL, "A Deadly Exercise: Practicing Falun Gong Was a Right, Ms. Chen Said, to Her Last Day" (20 Apr 2000).

Johnson, Ian. WALL STREET JOURNAL, "Death Trap: How One Chinese City Resorted to Atrocities To Control Falun Dafa" (26 Dec 2000).

Professor. Email to the USCIS Resource Information Center (20 Feb 2004).

United Nations (UN). CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE QUESTION OF TORTURE AND DETENTION: OPINIONS ADOPTED BY THE WORKING GROUP ON ARBITRARY DETENTION (24 Jan 2003, E/CN.4/2003/8/Add.1), http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/c514f021009a2b05c1256cf50036f89d/$FILE/G0310553.pdf [Accessed 20 Feb 2004]

U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS/DRL). Telephone interview with China expert at Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Office of Country Reports and Asylum (Washington, DC: 18 Feb 2004).

U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS). COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2002, "China" (31 Mar 2003), http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18239.htm [Accessed 18 Feb 2004]

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