Last summer, as Iranian democrats recounted online stories of regime violence, some international observers were first introduced to Falun Gong as players in the campaign for freedom of information. Practitioners of Falun Gong had spent nearly a decade developing the most effective anti-censorship software, the major outcome of which has been the improvement of the flow of information to and from authoritarian societies.
Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) is an ancient discipline which encourages good ethical standards for cultivating body and character. It contains the essence of traditional cultivation systems, like Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism), combined with a set of gentle exercises. Its core principles are "truth, compassion and forbearance". It today reaches millions of people of diverse backgrounds in more than one hundred countries.
70-100 million practitioners
In China where it first became public in 1992, Falun Gong grew to numbers greater than the membership of the Communist Party within seven years (70-100 million by the government's own estimate).
In Beijing, the Party panicked at seeing Chinese nationals in the tens of millions engaging publicly in a form of exercise which had an underlying belief system different from communism. The exercises can be done anywhere at any time, as often as any practitioner chooses, singly or in groups, indoors or outdoors. The discipline’s amorphous nature meant that it was impossible to control.
The early vilification and repression against Falun Gong by elements of the Party seeking to ban it led to petitions and protests by practitioners, generated through cell phone and Internet coordination. This mobilization further vexed party bosses in Beijing. For them, victimizing Falun Gong became a crime easier to get away with than doing the same to better known spiritual groups. Falun Gong victims are often people without Western connections or Western languages. The decade-long incitement to hatred against them in party media has had tragic consequences.
A dilemma for president Jiang Zemin as president of China in 1999 was not only that Falun Gong was authentically Chinese and growing across the country among citizens of all ages, regions and occupations, including party members; it was also that Marxism as a Western ideological import into China is patently foreign. Communists saw a popular China-based philosophy cutting out from under them the ground on which they still stood. Tolerating Falun Gong would probably have led to the disappearance of whatever ideological presence the party still held in the minds of the Chinese people.
There were also the Falun Gong standards of conduct which made some of the Party uneasy. Tens of millions of people promoting and living according to truth and compassion was hardly Jiang's absolutist worldview. In a leaked memorandum sent in April 1999 to the standing members of the Political Bureau of the central committee of his party, Jiang wrote: "Can't the Marxism our Communists have, the materialism, atheism we believe in really win over that suit of stuff aired by Falun Gong?" In short, Ziang feared popular ridicule.
'Marxism vs. Falun Gong'
Fearing Falun Gong's growth, the Party has repressed it as a rival with a savage brutality continuously since July 1999. Torture, rapes, beatings to death, detentions in forced labour camps, brainwashing-all have become the daily lot of Falun Gong practitioners across China for more than a decade.
Falun Gong practitioners today comprise two-thirds of the torture victims and half of the people in detention in 're-education through labour' camps across China. The documented yearly arbitrary killings and disappearances of Falun Gong exceed by far the totals for any other party victim group. According to research that David Matas and I have done, set out in our book Bloody Harvest, practitioners have been killed in the thousands since 2001 so that their organs could be trafficked to both Chinese nationals and foreigners.
The main conclusion of our book is that there "continues today to be large-scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners. We have concluded that the government of China and its agencies in numerous parts of the country, in particular hospitals but also detention centres and 'people's courts', since 1999 have put to death a large but unknown number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience. Their vital organs, including kidneys, livers, corneas and hearts, were seized involuntarily for sale at high prices, sometimes to foreigners, who normally face long waits for voluntary donations of such organs in their home countries."
From the numerous pieces of evidence we examined, we did not form our conclusion from any single one, but rather from their cumulative effect. Each is verifiable in itself and most are incontestable. In combination, they constitute a damning overall picture of guilt in a country which lacks even the pretence of the rule of law or respect for human dignity. Our revised report is accessible in 18 languages from www.david-kilgour.com.
Have the efforts of many in China and around the world to stop this new crime against humanity made a difference? Our book points at various developments within and beyond China occurring since our first report in 2006, including:
Since June, 2007, Chinese patients have been given priority access to organ transplants, taking precedence over foreigners.
Websites in China which formerly advertised prices and short waiting times for transplants have disappeared. Matas and I have archived the sites, but the sites are no longer visible from their sources.
The government of China now accepts that this sourcing of organs from prisoners is improper. Deputy Health Minister Huang Jeifu, at the time of the announcement of an organ donor pilot project in August 2009, stated that executed prisoners "are definitely not a proper source for organ transplants".
Taiwan has banned the visit of Chinese doctors brokering organ transplants.
The major transplant hospitals in Queensland, Australia have banned the training of Chinese surgeons.
Israel has passed a law banning the sale and brokerage of organs and has ended funding through the health insurance system of transplants for their nationals in China.
Belgian senator Patrik Vankrunkelsven and Canadian Member of Parliament Borys Wrzesnewskyj have each introduced into their respective Parliaments extraterritorial legislation banning transplant tourism. Both would penalise any transplant patient who receives an organ without consent of the donor where the patient knew or ought to have known of the absence of consent.
The World Medical Association has entered into an agreement with the Chinese Medical Association that organs of prisoners and other individuals in custody must not be used for transplantation unless the recipients are members of their immediate family.
The Transplantation Society has opposed both the transplantation of organs from prisoners and the presentations of studies involving patient data or samples from recipients of organs or tissues from prisoners.
Situation Worsening for Falun Gong
Unfortunately, these commendable developments have not brought an end to the killings for profit. For Falun Gong, matters have in fact become worse. Since we began our work, the number of prisoners sentenced to death and then executed across China has decreased quite dramatically, but the number of transplants, after a slight decline, then increased back to earlier levels. Since the only other substantial source of organs for transplants in China besides Falun Gong practitioners is prisoners sentenced to death, a decrease of sourcing from that population means an increase of sourcing from Falun Gong practitioners. Organ pillaging from Falun Gong practitioners has worsened since our work began, but the substantial movement in policy and practice inside and outside China encourages us to a degree. The willingness to change is there. We all need to continue to press Beijing for changes until the inhuman trafficking ends.
What of the implications of forced labour camps in China for manufacturing jobs in Europe and elsewhere? The network of camps today has existed since the 1950s, when Mao modeled them closely on the ones created in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Third Reich. In China even today, it requires only a police signature to commit someone to a labour camp for up to three years. No hearings and no appeals in that familiar totalitarian pattern.
In researching allegations that Falun Gong practitioners were being killed for their organs in China, Matas and I visited about a dozen countries to interview practitioners who had been sent to forced labour camps, but who had later managed to leave the camps and the country itself.
They told us of working in appalling conditions for up to sixteen hours daily with no pay, little food, sleeping together on the floor in cramped conditions, and torture. Their labour involved making export products, ranging from clothing to chopsticks to Christmas decorations, no doubt as hidden subcontractors to unethical exporters and contrary to the laws of the World Trade Organization.
340 Forced Labour Camps
One estimate of the number of these camps across China as of 2005 was 340, with a capacity of about 300,000 workers. Other estimates of the numbers of inmates are much higher. In 2007, a US government report estimated that at least half of the inmates in the camps were Falun Gong.
It is the combination of totalitarian governance and 'anything is permitted' economics which allows this inhuman export production to continue.
What the European Parliament legislates to ensure that all organ transplants are genuinely voluntary through informed consent is important. For organs trafficked in China or any other jurisdiction, David Matas and I would encourage you to consider some or all of the twenty recommendations in our book Bloody Harvest, including:
Urging the party-state in China to:
- cease the repression, imprisonment and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners;
- cease organ-harvesting from all prisoners;
- remove its military from the organ transplant business;
- establish and regulate a legitimate organ donor system (Every organ transplant donor should consent to the donation in writing. These consents should be available for inspection by international human rights officials.);
- open all detention centres, including forced labour camps, for international investigation; and
- free Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer who has become ‘the conscience of China’, and permit him to reunite with his family.
Implementing the following measures and enforcing them until the party-state in China ceases organ pillaging from prisoners:
- EU medical professionals should actively discourage their patients from going to China for transplant surgery;
- EU governments should not issue visas to Chinese MDs seeking training in organ or body tissue transplantation;
- EU MDs should not travel to China to give training in transplant surgery;
- Contributions submitted to EU medicals journals about the Chinese experience should be rejected;
- EU pharmaceutical companies should be barred from exporting to China any drugs used solely in transplant surgery;
- the EU Parliament should enact extra-territorial legislation, penalizing participation in organ transplants without consent; and
- All EU governments should bar entry to any person known to be participating in organ trafficking without informed consent.
In closing, I encourage you to develop an effective action plan for the European Parliament which will help end this terrible abuse.