More than 1,200 Falun Gong practitioners gathered Thursday on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol to protest China’s violent persecution of the spiritual practice since July 1999.
Frank Lee, spokesman for the event, told VOA the rally is held annually to demand that Chinese authorities stop the persecution and harvesting of human organs from prisoners of conscience, including Falun Gong practitioners.
The rally also promotes a campaign to bring former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, whom the group accuses of ordering the 1999 crackdown, to justice.
On June 13, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling for China to stop the persecution of and organ transfers involving Falun Gong practitioners.
The vote followed publication of a report claiming that China has expanded its illicit organ harvest to unprecedented levels. The report said the Falun Gong adherents were targeted for organ harvesting because they tend to take good care of themselves physically.
Chinese government officials have denied wrongdoing, calling reports of large-scale organ harvesting efforts a fabrication. Since 2015, the government said, it has not used death-row prisoners to source organ transfers and instead has adopted a voluntary organ donation system.
U.S. Republican Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Dana Rohrabacher of California attended the rally and made speeches, expressing their support for Falun Gong. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida also sent a written statement of support.
Protesters then marched to the Lincoln Memorial, where they held an evening candlelight vigil.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin service.