By Isaac Teo
Human rights advocates are condemning the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for sentencing 11 Falun Gong practitioners to up to eight years in prison just weeks before the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4.
The heavy-handed sentences on Jan. 14 again draw attention to the regime’s human rights abuses as it seeks to silence dissenting voices and exalt its political image to the world during the upcoming Games, says Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, also co-chair of Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong.
“Beijing is always mindful of its international image and often tries to prevent critical information from getting out,” Genuis told The Epoch Times.
“We have seen this especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the leadup to major international events. With the extreme measures that Beijing has imposed in preparation for the Olympics, it is entirely in keeping with the behavior of the Xi Jinping regime to prioritize their image by quashing any voices contrary to state-held positions.”
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a traditional Chinese self-improvement discipline that consists of five meditative exercises along with moral teachings centred on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. In 1999, then-CCP head Jiang Zemin ordered for the eradication of the practice after the number of its practitioners surpassed the membership of the Party, claiming it was “a threat to the country’s stability.”
In July 2020, the 11 practitioners were detained after the regime discovered that, as citizen journalists, they had photographed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic during the early stages and then shared the images with the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times.
With the exception of Xu Na, one of the detained practitioners who was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, the others were sentenced to between two and five years, according to Minghui, a U.S.-based website dedicated to documenting the CCP’s campaign against Falun Gong.
Xu, a 53-year-old still-life painter from Beijing, had been twice imprisoned for practicing Falun Gong before her latest sentencing. In 2001, she was arrested and sentenced to a five-year prison term.
In January 2008, months before the Beijing Summer Olympics, Beijing police arrested Xu and her husband Yu Zhou using the excuse of an “Olympic check.” The couple was held at the Tongzhou District Detention Center after the police found a copy of the book Zhuan Falun—the main book of Falun Gong’s teachings—in the couple’s vehicle.
Xu was sentenced to a three-year prison term in November 2008 while Zhou, a folk musician, was tortured to death for his belief within two weeks of his detention, at the age of 42. Xu wasn’t allowed to attend his funeral at the time.
Xu also suffered various forms of torture inflicted by the Chinese police during her years in prison—including one in which her legs were pulled apart to 180 degrees, and three inmates would then sit on her legs and back, creating excruciating pain.
David Matas, a renowned human rights lawyer in Canada, said there is a direct connection between the recent harsh sentencing of Falun Gong and the upcoming Winter Olympics, and spoke about how the regime is using such tactics to intimidate the world.
“The practice of the Chinese Communist Party has been to increase repression before and during the Olympic Games for fear that those disaffected from the Party might use the occasion of the Games to manifest the tyranny of the regime through protests to arriving foreigners,” Matas said in an interview.
“The Party tactic is not just to intimidate those who were sentenced, but also all those who can become aware of the sentence.”
Matas added that sentencing in communist China is unlike that of democratic states, where the aim is to deter crimes that the convicted committed and to do so in a consistent manner.
“In communist China, where sentencing is political, there is no consistency,” he said.
“What the Party aims to achieve through sentencing is deterrence of any act or belief that shows insufficient loyalty to the Party.”
Donna Ho, Eva Fu, and Rita Li contributed to this report.