As we can see now with the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, mass coverage can bring social tragedies to the public eye. With regards to China, this happened with the Olympic Games of 2008. After that, however, media coverage of social atrocities has dwindled to a painstaking low level. Some positivism seemed therefore appropriate when the Tiananmen Protest Anniversary was widely covered in early June 2014. Unfortunately, the public has still not been made aware of one of the gravest and voluminous human rights abuses that are happening today.
What we saw on the news about the Tiananmen Protest Anniversary was largely about the inability to hold public discussion or even private ones, let alone protest. The commemorations were therefore found outside the Chinese borders, most notably Hong Kong. Some people, like the artist Chen Guang and prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, have nevertheless been detained as a result of commemorating the 1989 events in China. After that, the mainstream media blacked-out on this topic that only seemed interesting in light of its 25th anniversary.
Barely any attention was for instance given to rising ‘cult’ issues on the Chinese mainland. This was truly a missed opportunity because days before the Tiananmen Protest Anniversary, the Chinese Communist Party issued a list of ‘evil cults,’ next to its already impressive list of social groups that are victim of its suppression campaign of other ‘heretical organizations’. One of these ‘cults’ that already experienced almost 15 years of persecution is called Falun Gong, of which now millions of practitioners receive “the longest sentences and worst treatment” in Chinese labor camps.
Six years ago today, on Jun 16, 2005, Gao Rongrong was for instance killed in custody after being detained in a ‘Re-education through Labour’ facility. Officials reported to Amnesty International that she was beaten repeatedly and received ‘electro-shock batons on her face and neck, which caused severe blistering and eyesight problems, after she was discovered reading Falun Gong materials in the facility’.
In 2006, there was the first mentioning of systematic organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners, while they were still alive. Two years later the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture noted that the ‘increase in organ transplant operations coincides with the beginning of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners’. These allegations were added to the already extensive list that includes “electroconvulsive therapy, painful forms of electrical acupuncture treatment, prolonged deprivation of light, food and water, and restricted access to toilet facilities in order to force “confessions” or “renunciations” as a condition of release” of imprisoned practitioners of Falun Gong. Another form of torture of which they are relatively overexposed to is the use of nasogastric tubes to administer up to 6 or 7 times the dosages of medication, thereby inflicting serious bodily harm.
Millions of Falun Gong practitioners receive “the longest sentences and worst treatment” in Chinese labor camps.
As many of us know, the Olympic Games of 2008 resulted in the widespread coverage of the torturing-to-death of the popular folk musician Yu Zhou, who refused to stop practicing Falun Gong. One might argue that mass sporting events are what is needed to bring attention to such atrocities. Unfortunately, China still has some years to go until they can again host the Olympics and they missed the boat the FIFA World Cup of 2018 and 2022.
As we have seen with the Tiananmen Square Anniversary, such commemorations only attract attention to a specific problem. For now, all hope is therefore vested in the 15-year anniversary of the official beginning of the Chinese crackdown that begun on July 21, 1999, when Falun Gong was outlawed and an arrest warrant was issued for Li Hongzhi, in order to bring this topic to the public eye.