The room is cleaned of any trace of operation after the organ removal surgery. It now looks like any other room. The surgeon has disappeared silently, without a trace, earning thousands of yuans for his sordid services. Meanwhile, thanks to a new kidney, heart, liver or corneas, a patient in need of healthy organs will be fit as a fiddle again.
But in exchange, another human being has been murdered. And the odds that he practiced Falungong are very high, especially in the People’s Republic of China. An independent two-month investigation by two Canadians has found enough evidence, which they claim proves beyond reasonable doubt, that Chinese authorities are linked to the systematic harvesting of organs from living Falungong practitioners.
Thousands of immoral organs
David Kilgour, a former Canadian Member of Parliament and former Secretary of State to Asia-Pacific and David Matas, a human rights lawyer, claim that between 2000 and 2005, 41 500 organ transplants that have taken place in China have no other explained source but the bodies of Falungong (also referred to as Falun Dafa) practitioners. Kilgour and Matas are putting pressure on their own government and on the international community to demand from China that it “stops repressing Falungong, that it allows visits into prisons, stops torture, stops execution, stops giving organs from executed prisoners to receivers of transplant organs, that it insists on consent and stops payment for transplant.”1
Organ harvesting from living Falungong practitioners sadly takes its place at the end of a long list of human rights violations in China.
A harmless practice…
According to most observers and followers, Falungong is a harmless “self-cultivation practice”. The movement includes elements of Buddhist, Taoist and Christian philosophies and that’s why some confuse it with a religion, which it isn’t. It is a form of qigong practice that has five sets of meditation exercises and that resemble Tai chi. The exercises seek to develop practitioners' heart and character according to the principles of “Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance”. It is beneficial to practitioners’ health. It’s also why it makes many of them “good candidates” for having their organs stolen.
Founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, who fled China and settled in the United States, Falungong has quickly grown into what Human Rights China has qualified as one of China’s most important developments in the transition to the new century. HRC also explained that the movement developed this rapidly because it satisfied so many human needs quashed under the communist Mao regime and its failure. 'Falungong provided a sense of meaning and belonging to people who felt frustrated, lost, lonely and impotent in a society roiling with change, suffused with materialism and devoid of morality.'2
If Falungong is a harmless practice, then why has the Chinese government launched such a crackdown on the movement, banning it and brutally persecuting its followers?
A threat to order?
According to the Chinese government, Falungong is a dangerous sect, which it has banned in 1999 and brutally persecuted since then. On its embassy website for the United States, Chinese authorities write that “like other cults in the world, Falungong not only seriously goes against the ethics, law and order of the human society but also gravely threatens people’s normal religious belief. To protect the human rights and freedom of religious belief of the Chinese people, the Chinese Government outlawed the Falungong cult in accordance with the law.”
Up to 100 million followers
Instead of protecting human rights, China has systematically violated them. David Matas claims the Chinese Communist Party sees the Falungong as an ideological threat to the regime because of its large numbers: Li claimed to have 70 million followers in China and 30 million outside of the country in 1999, while the CCP had 60 million members. A large number of the Falungong followers in China were considered intellectuals, members of the security services and the military, party officials and even members of the innermost government circles. Falungong practitioners are committed, tenacious and can mobilize large group of people. On 25 April, 1999, 10,000 Falungong protested in silence on Tiananmen Square against earlier arrests and beatings of practitioners, the biggest gathering since the 1989 massacre.
According to the BBC, “Falungong is seen as just the sort of heretical cult whose arising in China has traditionally spelled the end of the ruling dynasty. In this, for the Beijing authorities at least, it has unpleasant resonances with the Taiping Rising which wreaked havoc in China between 1850 and 1865.”3
Since the protest, former president Jiang Zemin saw the group as an immediate threat to the regime and made it a personal mission to fight against it. “Falungong in China, like the cults the United States, Japan and Europe, is harmful to the society and people and should not be allowed to go unchecked,” he told French newspaper Le Figaro in October 1999.4
According to Gong Ping, who writes for the Epoch Times, a New York- based paper specialized in the coverage of China, Hu Jintao, China’s current president, “has not directly committed any injustice towards Falungong practitioners … [But] as the highest authority and policymaker in China, Hu has responsibility for the persecution, whether to end or to continue it.”5
The world is watching
A US Department of State report estimated that at least half of the 250,000 officially recorded inmates in the country's reeducation-through-labor camps are Falungong adherents. In March 2006 U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak reported that Falungong practitioners accounted for 66 percent of victims of alleged torture while in government custody.
The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong in China has made allegations of systematic organ harvesting from living practitioners since early 2006. It has asked David Matas and David Kilgour to investigate the matter, which the two lawyers accepted to do on a voluntary, independent basis. “This has to stop immediately if China wants to become a respected member of world community,” concluded Kilgour during a press conference following the publication of his and Matas’ investigative report. “The world community is hopefully going to demand that this stops.”
The two activists believed traditional investigation mechanisms were not working quickly enough to draw attention to the issue. By releasing their investigation results, Matas and Kilgour hoped to mobilize the international community to get involved, launch more investigations and draw its own conclusions. Although Kilgour isn’t formally calling upon others to do so, he won’t be attending the Olympics in Beijing and won’t do business himself with China.
Has Canada strengthened its stance on the issue since the organ harvesting allegations were brought to light?
In an e-mail interview, Kilgour wrote that “he’s persuaded that [Matas’ and his] report on organ pillaging from Falungong practitioners across China did help alter [Canada’s government’s position] regarding the party-state in China.” Kilgour’s “best guess is that Stephen Harper, [Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister] knows how irrational the party leadership is about the Falungong and thus avoids giving them an opportunity to vent on the issue.”
Canada’s government found itself in uneasy diplomatic territory with China and its own Canadian population of Chinese descent a year ago, following the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s decision to allow nine Chinese-language television channels to be broadcast in Canada. The announcement triggered a series of complaints from Falungong supporters who worried the channels might be a vehicle for anti-Falungong propaganda. Joel Chipkar, whose Canadian mother, a Falungong follower, was arrested and detained in Beijing while protesting against China’s repression of Falungong, wrote to a national newspaper that the channels would “incite hatred and instill fanatic communist patriotism” in Canada. Chipkar’s mother was finally released, but such an incident put the Canadian government in an awkward position towards China.
Facing the tiger while keeping the money
How can smaller governments stand up against such an important trading partner like China? According to Canadian newsmagazine Maclean’s, many Conservative MPs have been supportive of Falungong. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson went even further, calling for the immediate suspension of all aid to China.6 Harper himself has adopted a tougher stance on China, accusing it of industrial espionage, referring to its development of the Redberry, an equivalent to the BlackBerry sold by a Canadian-based company. He also personally took on the case of Huseyin Celil, a Uyghur-Canadian Muslim who was arrested during a family visit to Uzbekistan and deported to China to face ambiguous charges of terrorism. Harper spoke personally to Hu Jintao regarding the case.
However, when economic issues are at stake, fighting for human rights becomes harder. 25 per cent of Canadians consider China the most important country to their interests and Canadian companies with high stakes in the country are putting increasing pressure on the government to soften its stance on the economic tiger, Maclean’s reported. Now, at the eve of the 2008 Olympics taking place in Beijing, more eyes than ever are turned on China and its chronic mistreatment of human rights.
But as our politicians asks ourselves how far they can push the issue without facing economic rebuffal, more Falungong followers in China are disappearing under the scalpel.
Meanwhile, an anonymous surgeon tiptoes out of the operating room, thousands of yuans richer.