On a cool August morning, the streets are filled with cars, trucks and buses. People buy their morning coffees and prance along the streets of Sydney, looking down at their phones.
Trucks and cars rumble past one after another to only see the greys and blacks of the buildings around. Until they finally look up and see the dull colours of the city broken by a white sign with big black letters with a message reading ‘ABC Please STOP Misrepresentation of Falun Gong’.
“We’re going to protests until they take an action. We’re trying to ensure that the public knows what we’re trying to do and hopefully through this they learn about our practice; understand us.”
Falun Gong protestors sat outside the ABC building in silence for over the course of two months for the ABC to apologies for a report that misrepresented their practice.
In late July, an investigative story came out on a Four Corners series, Foreign Correspondent. The piece looked into heavy allegations against the spiritual practice based around their teachings and beliefs.
Natalie, 19 is a university student who is a Falun Gong practitioner.
Growing up in Australia Natalie’s native tongue was English, but at home, her mother Adeline was fluent in Cantonese and was taught to the duality of both languages.
The language wasn’t the only Adeline passed on to her daughter, also teaching her daughter the faith of the Falun Gong.
Adeline was introduced to the teachings of Falun Gong through her eldest daughter, while Natalie was three years old.
“My mum suffered through depression, they found that the teachings through meditation was beneficial for them. Changed their mental thinking and they started to think more positive”.
Natalie did not start practising Falun Gong fully until high school. Natalie continued on to discuss how she never viewed it as something weird her mum was doing. Realising that the practice had various benefits for herself mentally and physically.
Being born and raised in Australia Natalie was remembers watching the ABC and trusting their storytelling. However, after the report came out she states that she found disappointed in the outlet, especially in their reporting and wishes they conducted further research into the practice.
“They did some research, but they chose a narrative, with one path to take… they researched two to three ex practitioners and didn’t ask current practitioners”.
Layla and Aei
Layla, a 67-year-old practitioner who discovered the teachings of Falun Gong in 1994.
Working within a university at the time, Layla one day walked into a bookstore within China.
Upon the various shelves, she found an interesting book that spoke about the faith of Falun Dafa and what the teachings were.
“They forced me out of the university when they found out I was practicing Falun Dafa. Arresting me there on campus and then brought me to a camp saying I most denounce my belief”.
Unfortunately, Aei wasn’t able to describe much from her encounter. This is due to memory loss she suffers from the various horrors.
Layla went onto the discuss how when it came to the arrests the whole family was targeted, not just the single person. Her family moved away from China soon after and came to Australia.
“Held her in a dark room for a long period of time, and force-feed her something. I’m not sure what, but it made her lose herself part of herself.”
Being the first of many visits the police would checked up on her various times, continuously stating the same thing ‘you must denounce you beliefs’.
Held in prison for three months soon after her the discovery of he new-found belief, the persecution began for not only Layla but also her family.
Layla sister Aei was also imprisoned and suffered a worse fate than her sister, through endless beatings and ongoing persecutions.
Nearing the end of 1993 Bella came upon the Master Li Hongzhi, who was spreading the practice at this time near her hometown. Deciding it seemed interesting Bella decided to go along and find out what Falun Dafa was all about.
In June 2000, Bella was at Tiananmen Square, one of many holding up a sign reading, ‘Falun Dafa is Good’.
A while into the protest Bella and her fellow practitioners were arrested on the spot.
Beaten with batons by the policemen who were off duty at the time.
Pushed around she was escorted to a nearby police station with many other with her fellow protestors. While, being processed they were asked for their name, address and information.
Bella denied answering the questions. Stating that she didn’t wish to reveal her personal information. During her time at the station, she was threatened, abused and intimated with the potentiality of being placed in prison. Three days later her fellow protesters and herself were released.
However, this wouldn’t be the last time.
“I was working at a company at this stage and the police came by one day to arrest me. Then forced into one of the camps, but this was early on in the persecutions so I didn’t suffer like many others”.
Harassment was endured by her family as well, targeting her daughter. The police would corner her and then force her to repeat slanderous phrases against her mother. Anything to turn the closet people in her life against her
soon after she was sent back for prison.
Held in a pitch-black room for three months living with a vast amount of mosquitos purposefully to torment her.
“I did everything in that room. Eat, sleep, pee and poop, wash my clothes or anything else all within that one small room”.
Her family stopped practicing Falun Gong out of fear for their safety and many years later was able to find refugee within Australia in 2015.
As soon as she arrived a message was delivered from her family explaining that the police were looking for her.
From that moment on Bella realised she could never return to China again.
Sha Li has been practicing Falun Gong for 24 years of her life, finding her faith within 1996.
After being quite ill for a long time a friend introduced Sha Li to the practice, explaining how it may help her and benefit her health in a majority of ways.
Remembering that her persecution began exactly on July 20, 1999.
Police arrived at her home forcing Sha Li to reject her believes. Questioning the motives and why this was happening Sha was taken to the police station about three times before being placed within a prison.
Sha Li was held within the prison for 17 days being placed in a small cell with about 20 other prisoners. Living in some of the worst conditions.
“The bread contained insects and sand, melon that wasn’t skinned, but was hard as rocks and our water filled with detergent and sand, prisoners no matter who they are being forced to drink it”.
Once in awhile being taken to a public place, put onto a stage to admit their guilt and denounce their faith. The guards would tell them if they did not cooperate they’d be placed back into the cells.
Sha Li was placed on stage about three times and denied to give up her believes.
Soon after being released from her imprisonment, the police discovered that Sha Li cousin was also a practitioner and they’d been in contact recently.
Realising the risk of being tracked down by the police potentially Sha Li had to decide what would guarantee her safety.
Her daughter was studying in Australia on a student visa and through this it allowed Sha Li to travel to Australia and seek asylum.
“Many of these protestors have risked their own lives and will never be able to return home again. The report that ABC released took away from their stories and experiences, it took away their voice. All we want is an official apology and then maybe their voices can be slightly returned”, states Natalie.
ABC released a statement about one month into the ongoing protest. Stating that “the ABC completely rejects any claims it’s reporting on Falun Gong was sourced from or influenced by the Chinese Communist Party”.
Two months later, I was walking past the ABC and I couldn’t see the white signs anymore. I decided to walked further and found that the silent protest had ended.
Emailing Natalie for a comment, she responded back stating, “that we’ve decided to move on and pursue other pathways of protest”.
Pavements now empty and haunted by the ghosts of what once was. Commuters shuffle the spots of where protesters once stood and are unaware of what has happened.