A group of protestors from the mainland China's banned
spritual group Falun Gong, stage a performance showing alleged abuse of its
members in China at the hands of the government, at a park in Hong Kong.
The Olympics are over, but don't look away from China just yet. The fates of
thousands of ordinary Chinese arrested ahead of the Games hinge on what we do
For people like my Chinese-American friend Si Yang, these roundups have
struck too close to home. In April, Si called his parents in Hebei province only
to discover that 20 officers had shown up and taken away his father and
In May, his sister, a 36-year-old employee of the Chinese Academy of
Sciences, was sentenced without trial to one-and-a-half years in a labour camp
for being a Falun Gong practitioner. Her family has not been allowed to see her
Si's sister is not alone. At least 8,000 Falun Gong practitioners have been
detained since December. Several have already been tortured to death, according
to the Falun Dafa Information Center. Some 5,000 Tibetans have been jailed since
March, and countless others were swept up in the pre-Olympic "cleanup."
The Chinese Communist Party is pulling a bait-and-switch -- using pre-Olympic
"security measures" to stifle dissenters in the long term.
How bad is it? We don't fully know. We have no idea, for instance, exactly
how many Chinese are in "re-education through labour" camps because it's a state
secret. Estimates range from 400,000 to four million detainees.
We know the largest group among them are practitioners of Falun Gong. They
have been victims of statewide persecution since 1999, when their spiritual
meditation discipline became too popular for the party's liking. Last year the
Beijing Female Labour Camp, for example, contained 700 Falun Gong practitioners
and only 140 actual criminals. The party operates hundreds of similar camps,
spanning every Chinese province.
Like the Ministry of Propaganda and committees that control the courts, these
gulags are evidence that little has changed since the days of Mao. Police today
can pick up any Chinese citizen and make them disappear into a labour camp.
Victims have no domestic media to speak to; lawyers who fight for them are often
And we know what happens in these camps. A colleague and I spent the last
year collecting new testimonies from Falun Gong practitioners who survived
Dai Ying now lives in Norway and is old enough to be my mother. In 2003, she
was taking her afternoon nap at home when policemen barged in and took her away.
She was sentenced to two years in San-Shui Labour Camp.
She was deprived of sleep for days. "After a long time, I was just
muddleheaded and confused. Sometimes I didn't even know where I was," she said.
"They wouldn't let me go to the bathroom unless I cursed at [Falun Gong founder]
Guards demanded Dai write a statement maligning Falun Gong and renouncing her
beliefs. When she refused, they took her to the basement.
"There were a bunch of criminals pressing me down and policemen electrocuted
me," she said. "They shocked my face and I went blind in one eye. My head was so
painful I couldn't tolerate it. I just cried." The purpose of all this is to
"transform" the prisoners -- ideally into Communist Party-loving atheists.
They are also turned into slaves, working 15-20 hours a day. In the cell
where they sleep and defecate, they wrap disposable chopsticks for export. If
chopsticks fall on the floor, they have to wrap them anyway.
Others perform hard labour outdoors. While digging rocks in Yunnan province,
Wang Xiaohua's shaven head was quickly scorched. "As soon as I touched the burnt
area I was touching puss, and then when it dried it turned yellow. My whole head
was burnt to the point of festering," Wang told us. "But no one cared; if you
die you just die."
Worse yet, mounting evidence suggests these prisoners are candidates for
involuntary donation of their kidneys, livers, hearts and cornea. For years we
have heard that organs in China's transplant industry come from executed
prisoners. Now we know they also come from Falun Gong prisoners jailed for their
So what will happen to the thousands of nameless Chinese arrested before the
Games? Much of that depends on us. We were mostly silent when they were
arrested. Now we have a chance to make up for it.
Party leaders are waiting to see what we do. They hope we are too preoccupied
with elections and economic crises to worry about them. They hope we will
self-censor for fear of losing access in China. They hope despondency with our
own human rights failures will have us forever cleaning our own backyards, even
as we hear the neighbour murdering his children.
But if heads of state, doctors, scholars, mayors, entrepreneurs and any of us
who have collegial interaction with Chinese use every opportunity to raise the
issue of shutting down China's gulag system, we can make a difference. Party
leaders fear international pressure and we need to sound it across the board.
Thousands of lives depend on us.
-Leeshai Lemish has been writing about Falun Gong since 2001 and is currently
conducting research with Ethan Gutmann for an upcoming book about the
persecution of the group and its resistance.