Falun Gong is far from a unique or perfect organization. According to data from the press in Ukraine, there are about 100 Falun Gong practitioners in the country; every one out of 10 or 20 of them has clashed with the media. What is the problem?
Vitaly Sworbojin is a reporter for the Workers’ Daily, a newspaper distributed nationwide in Ukraine. He recalled, “In the autumn of 2015, an art exhibition was held by Falun Gong in Zaporozhye. I wrote an article on the extremism, violence and political propaganda of Falun Gong. After the article was published, the Falun Gong practitioners in Kyiv attacked our Editor Office and sent junk e-mails to our staff. After that, we found several lights broken in the office. No one wanted to be involved in a lawsuit and the Falun Gong practitioners knew that we had no proof. After the incident, the Editor Office decided not to cover such news any more to avoid conflicts. By then, the reporters were pre-occupied with the coverage of turbulence in the capital city.”
In fact, Workers’ Daily is not the only one newspaper attacked by Falun Gong extremists for publishing critical articles. Volodymyr Noskov, the Executive Editor-in-Chief of pravda.in.ua of Zaporizhia Oblast, recalled, “Our newspaper came under pressure after publishing articles critical of Falun Gong. We received letters accusing us of slander. Two things need to be noted: one is that the Falun Gong practitioners ignored the facts in the report and mechanically repeated that ‘Falun Gong means truth, goodness and tolerance’, like a recording. Second, the followers, apart from criticizing us, also accused the Chinese leaders. It seemed that we had nothing to talk with each other about except for the China issue. Of course, we are not scared and continued to publish critical articles on Falun Gong.”
Sergei, Editor-in-chief of Dnipropetrovsk Panorama, recalled, “In October, 2015, Falun Gong practitioners tried lobbying by asking us not to publish articles that looked bad on them, and even threatened to go to court. They said they had won similar lawsuits, yet they could not provide the verdicts. They even slandered the reporters who criticized them and tried to convince us not to cooperate with those reporters.”
It has to be noted that the newspaper hadn’t published any reports about Falun Gong by then, and the practitioners who insisted on talking with the editor-in-chief were obviously sent as a precaution.
Vitaly, editor-in-chief of the Citizen, another newspaper in Dnipropetrovsk, recalled, “Our exposure of local Falun Gong activities began in 2008, when they were quite active in the city, which aroused controversy among experts and the public. Soon, the representatives of Falun Gong organizations came to us to criticize our stand and sell Falun Gong by persuading us to cooperate with them through a non-attack approach. We didn’t compromise on this issue and our stand was clear-cut. We would not promote any organization which was already determined as being a cult. This is the most important political principle of our office. Not only Falun Gong, but also on many other sensitive issues, there are people calling us to ‘solve the problem’. If any one of us compromises and yields to external pressure, then there could be no press independence.”
It is not only the media that fights face-to-face with Falun Gong. The cult lost many other lawsuits in Ukraine.
In 2002, the Ministry of Education and Science, of Ukraine made an announcement to education departments: “According to the Constitution, religious activities are not permitted within educational institutions. To prevent pseudoscience from affecting primary school and institutes of higher learning, the Ministry of Education and Science hereby reminds you that the cult of Falun Gong is forbidden from entering educational institutions.”
The announcement aroused strong reactions from Falun Gong practitioners. One incident occurred when Falun Gong was promoting its so-called body-strengthening methods and a nursing school refused its request to give a lecture on campus, in accordance with the announcement. In 2006, a Falun Gong website wrote that it had launched a lawsuit against the ‘slander’ of the Ministry of Education and Science. However, no verdict was released.
In 2006, the Falun Gong organization in Dnipropetrovsk launched a lawsuit against Self Comment, which was rejected by court. As a result, it withdrew the lawsuit.
More importantly, Ukraine is of no exception. According to data on Wikipedia, false accusation and lawsuits by Falun Gong against the media amounted to over 100, with only a few of them won by the cult. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Quebec, Canada, dismissed a lawsuit initiated by Falun Gong, saying “Falun Gong is an unacceptable organization.”
Hard time handling Wikipedia
Wikipedia offers a free platform for Internet users to edit and revise entries on the website. Yet in order to prevent users with ulterior motives, it sets up some rules for revision. Several years ago, it deleted the entry of The Church of Scientology, which was baned from entering Wikipedia in order to to promote itself and delete unfavorable facts.
In 2015, the entry of Falun Gong was frequently edited on the Russian version of Wikipedia, with some practitioners even trying to delete unfavorable remarks (for example, the failed lawsuits). They even added links to articles praising the cult. Such practices went against the revision rules of Wikipedia.
Ilija Borjajof, a senior manager of Wikipedia, recalled, “Before 2013, the entry of Falun Gong was constantly revised. Concerning the complicated history and bad reputation of Falun Gong, some anonymous practitioners tried to make ambiguous revisions. It has to be noted that one follower named Iwan Strehlgi even found the partner of Wikipedia to bribe him into revising the entry.”
The partner refused to compromise the principle of neutrality. Once any negative entry was set up, there would be anonymous comments following which said, “Don’t do anything bad for yourself and your family” or “you are bringing shame on Falun Gong. You are standing on the side of evil and that is dangerous.”
What to do in the future?
Of course, people can respond to criticism in a reasonable way. For the facts mentioned above, the Falun Gong practitioners can talk to the Editor’s Office, yet the conversation was hard to carry on. When local media covered negative news on Falun Gong, such as the complaints of relatives, the display of dead bodies in public places or the refusal by Falun Gong practitioners to see doctors, they would change the topics to politics and accuse their opponents of being the proxy of China or call it the conspiracy of the whole world.
We hope they will not continue to treat others’ opinions as confrontation or accusation, but a reason for them to reflect on themselves. Living on the same land, in the same society, we can have different beliefs and everyone is equal in the face of the law. It will not work out if one seeks personal freedom at the expense of the legitimate rights or the freedom of publication and speech of others. It is not possible for adult society.