Eight years after the Beijing Olympics and as the world prepares to watch the 2016 Games open today in Brazil, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners and their families in China are living with the aftermath of a Communist Party crackdown ahead of the 2008 sporting event. At least 150 people detained at the time are believed to still be imprisoned, according to a list compiled by the Falun Dafa Information Centre.
“These innocent Chinese people were abducted in advance of the 2008 Olympics simply because they practice Falun Gong. Today, they continue to languish in prisons across China,” says Levi Browde, Executive Director of the Falun Dafa Information Centre. “They are at constant risk of horrific torture and even death. And we must remember this is just the tip of the iceberg of the hundreds of thousands of practitioners imprisoned over the years and the tens of millions persecuted for their faith across China.”
As Beijing prepared to host the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took advantage of the opportunity to embark on a massive roundup of Falun Gong practitioners around the country, part of a larger crackdown on dissent. Over 8,000 people were detained, often from their homes or workplaces. At the time, the Falun Dafa Information Centre had documented 711 cases of Falun Gong practitioners arrested in the run-up to the games who were sentenced by the end of 2009 to prison after farcical trials. Hundreds of others were sent to forced labour camps.
A significant proportion of these Falun Gong practitioners were given prison terms of over eight years. On the occasion of the opening day of the 2016 Olympics, the Falun Dafa Information Centre is publishing a list of 158 such people who it believes remain in custody.
Several people from the original list have been excluded because they did not survive their prison term. Others passed away after being taken to labour camps. Sources inside China and family members report that they either died in custody or soon after their release due to abuse in detention or delayed medical attention. The following are three such examples:
- Dr. Gong Hui – Died December 2009: Dr. Gong, 57, was detained in Tianjin on August 13, 2008, within the first week of the Olympic Games and sent the following month to Banqiao “Re-education through Labor” camp. While there, she was beaten, tortured, and held in solitary confinement. After three months at the camp, she had become emaciated, sickly, and had difficulty speaking. She was finally allowed to return home after completing her full 15-month sentence. Unable to recover from the abuse in custody, she passed away less than a month after her release.
- Mr. Yu Zhongzhu – Died January 2010: Mr. Yu, 39, was detained on August 8, 2008, the opening day of the Beijing Games along with his wife and several other local Falun Gong practitioners. He died in a prison in Heilongjiang province while serving a six-year sentence and his body was quickly cremated without his family’s permission. His wife was herself sentenced to four years in prison.
- Ms. Liu Fengmei – Died December 2014: Ms. Liu, in her forties, was abducted in Liaoning province in February 2008 and subsequently sentenced to 13 years in prison. While serving her sentence, she was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer, but when she was finally released on medical parole, the disease had already progressed too far for her to recover. Human rights attorney Li Heping (now himself in detention) was among several lawyers who argued her innocence in court. Ms. Liu is survived by her husband and son.
“It may be years before the world fully understands the true human cost of the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” says Browde. “But even without such knowledge, the international community must remember the victims of the CCP’s crackdown who are still imprisoned and continue to call for their release—before it’s too late.”
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