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Harper's Trip to China Could Be Good News For Falun Gong Practitioners

10/31/2014 06:12 EDT | Updated 12/31/2014 05:59 EST

Oct. 30 marked the 15-year anniversary of a resolution on Article 300 of China's criminal code. This resolution detailed the punishments for crimes 'committed by cults' and resulted in the Falun Gong becoming a banned organization in China.

In 1999, the Falun Gong reportedly organized thousands of Chinese citizens to silently protest at Tiananmen Square. The speed, organization, and numbers reportedly surprised the Chinese leadership, and likely resulted in their crackdown. To this day, Falun Gong remains a particularly sensitive issue for the Chinese. On the website of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Canada, of the 19 items under Spokesperson's Remarks since 2004, 5 (26%) relate to the Falun Gong (2004-2007), followed closely behind by references to the Dalai Lama/Tibetan issues (4) and espionage allegations (4).

The People's Republic of China describes the Falun Gong as "very good at concocting lies", using "rumour-mongering and mudslinging". The Chinese government expressed hope that more Canadians will become "aware of the nature of Falun Gong as an evil cult".

Despite these claims, Canada was one of the few countries to call on the People's Republic of China to stop the "arbitrary detention" and "persecution" of Falun Gong practitioners when China appeared before the UN Human Rights Councils Universal Periodic Review in 2009 and in 2013. In fact, there have been various references to the Falun Gong, both domestically and internationally, by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Parliamentary Secretaries, and at the official's level. In launching the Office of Religious Freedom in 2013, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a poignant reference to the repression that occurs in China, including those affecting Falun Gong practitioners.

Despite their relatively small numbers in Canada (likely only in the thousands), practitioners of the Falun Gong and their supporters have been very active, even getting meetings with multiculturalism minister Jason Kenney. Parliament's Subcommittee on International Human Rights also heard from individuals on the issue of organ transplants and the treatment of Falun Gong members. Back in 2005, it was reported that Falun Gong was the third most frequent subject of correspondence to the Prime Minister's Office. Both Prime Ministers Martin and Chretien reportedly raised Falun Gong issues.

Prime Minister Harper's trip to China in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings presents a potential opportunity for him to raise (again) the difficulties faced by Falun Gong practitioners and their supporters. More specifically, he could raise the case of human rights defender Gao Zhisheng. Gao, a Chinese national, was once a practising lawyer in China. He became an outspoken critic of the Chinese regime, and campaigned for religious freedom, including those of the Falun Gong. He then disappeared and there were allegations he was brutally tortured. Although he is now currently under house arrest, there are growing calls in the United States for Gao to be allowed to join his family (who are in the United States) for medical treatment.

Canada has publicly raised his case in the past. In 2010, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs mentioned Gao in a statement in the House of Commons. Earlier this year, a statement from Canada's Ambassador to China called on China to end the unjust detention of Gao.

Although there will be many economic and other bilateral issues to discuss during the Prime Minister's visit, and time in meetings will always be limited, this could be an opportune time for Canada, at the highest level, to raise Gao's case directly with the Chinese leadership.

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