Exploring the connections between the Olympics, Organ Harvesting, Falun Gong and China's Reeducation Through Labor (RTL) system of extra-judicial punishment.
I must be getting into the Olympic spirit. Or, some things are just so big they suck you up involuntarily. I suddenly find myself wondering if maybe, after all, human rights issues will be given more than incidental treatment by the hordes of media visiting Beijing for the games. I wasn't feeling very optimistic, but maybe I've underestimated the dedication of those forces lining up against the Chinese Communist Party, such as theFalun Gong ( FLG), the Tibetans, the Uigars, various Hollywood celebrities, ranks of organized activists, etcetera. Here's hoping.
What led to my writing this tonight was my receiving a Digg shout from a Digg friend who is always Digging stories about organ harvesting, a topic of deep concern to me. This Digg had an intriguing title: Labor Camps hidden near Olympic Venues: Maps & driving dirs! It linked to a page delivering the promised goods on the Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) website, which is a creation of the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong (CIPFG). You might think this is yet another FLG tentacle, and it might be in part, but this group highlights their famous political members including, among many others, three U.S. Congressmen, several Flemish MPs and Senators, the Mayor of Prague, former Canadian MP David Kilgour who co-authored the most extensive investigation into organ harvesting yet, and Vaclav Havel, the former President of Czech Republic. There is also a link for those who want to "Join CIPFG." I'm not sure if you need to be a high or former official or not.
Of course these CIPFG-provided maps and background information will not be downloadable in China by normal means. At least, I don't expect that the CCP will permit HRTR site to be viewable during the games. Just hours ago as I write this, Chinese President Hu met with foreign journalists (I bet they felt flattered), and in a "stunning development the Chinese authorities were last night working with an International Olympic Committee group to reopen websites, including those of national broadcasters such as BBC China and Deutsche Welle as well as non-governmental organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International." And CNN too I expect, but somehow I think this was all in the game plan of the CCP. Let's see if the HRTR site gets through, or the CIPFG site or the Epoch Times site. Not likely.
Beijing's "back down," as they are calling it, will be no doubt be framed as a victory for our freedoms. The same article I just quoted from continues: "The Chinese have the right to close down sites that are pornographic or subversive, but otherwise everything that should be free, and wasn't, now will be" [saidIOC press commission chairman, Kevan Gosper]. And a bit further down: "Some of the sites the Chinese consider subversive and will continue to block are those relating to the outlawed Falun Gong movement, the Tibetan government in exile and the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre." Ah, ha. We have caught the IOC's Gosper essentially saying that some censorship is a good thing.
So when is censorship a good thing, presumably, according to this type of thinker? When it involves the FLG; when it involves information that challenges the CCP's way of doing government and engaging in "population control;" when it involves military history; basically, whenever it involves human rights.
One of the things visiting journalists are strongly discouraged from reporting on is anything to do with the fact that China has a Maoist "re-education prison" network still in place. Nations used to boycott over these things. To quote from theHRTR's Olympic Guide to China's Labor Camps (the object of the Digg link):
If you can't charge 'em, lock 'em up anyway. And don't report on it. Nobody wants to hear about that. The system is called láojiào åŠ³æ•™, or "Reeducation Through Labor" (RTL) in English. According to Wikipedia, "persons detained under laojiao are detained in facilities which are separate from the general prison system." Under laojiao the police can "sentence a person guilty of such minor offenses as petty theft and prostitution, to a maximum of four years' incarceration," says the China Daily. To be honest, you must switch the word, accused, for the word, guilty, in that line. According to Human Rights Watch, "Reeducation through labor ""sometimes labeled rehabilitation through labor"" is not to be confused with reform though labor (laodong gaizao or laogai), the complex of prisons, labor camps, and labor farms for those sentenced judicially."
The China Daily story continues:
"Under the practice, a judicial review by a court can only take place after punishment is imposed. Ying Songnian, a law expert and NPC deputy, said that flaws with laojiao lie in its implementation procedure because there is no strict legal boundary in deciding the length of detention.
Wang Gongyi, vice-director of the Institute of Justice Research affiliated to the Ministry of Justice, said that the current laojiao practice contradicts several items in the Constitution, the Criminal Procedure Law, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights a United Nations human rights treaty China signed in 1998.
Apparently there is no need to deny the existence of systemic human rights violations, even in the pages of the English-language press within China. This begs the question of why the Western media generally fails write about this matter. And why isn't the West using the Olympics to pressure China to reform theRTL system? The China Daily story was titled, New law to abolish laojiao system, and ran on March 1, 2007. The news, at that time, was that a new law to reform the RTL system was to be voted on at the following October congress. That would have been a nice time to push too. Alas, it seems the system didn't get reformed and, in fact, it proved useful in cleaning up the "human trash" from the streets of Beijing in time for the Olympics. The FLG say this includes of their practitioners.
The thing about the FLG is, whether you trust them as a source of information or not probably comes down to one issue: organ harvesting. Not since the ovens of Auswitch has the Western mind been obliged to face such a terrifying spectacle of human atrocity. Thus, it is no surprise that most people don't even want to seek out the whole truth about this one, unless they can be sure it is a truth they want to hear. Either political prisoners are being used as livestock, or they aren't. The accusation has been made and flatly denied. If it is really happening, it is something we should face. There couldn't be many hells worse than waking up each day wondering if it would be the day your histocompatibility card comes up, you die, and some medical tourist goes home very happy. Shudder to think.
The two sides are light years apart. On the one hand, the FLG and a growing pool of human rights experts and politicians from around the world claim that organs are being systematically harvested from a large, anonymous pool ofFLG prisoners of whom there is no official record and usually no surviving family member brave enough to go making inquiries. Well, lots of FLG have been, and probably are now being, rounded up in the prelude to the Olympics. This is what the RTL laojiao system allows for. As for the large anonymous pool of FLG prisoners, this story begins on April 25, 1999 when over 10,000 FLG practitioners gathered at Zhonghainan in a silent protest against the government's persecution of them. Mass arrests followed. I'll quote from the Kilgour/Matas Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting to paint the overall picture:
To petition the Government Petition Office in Beijing about these arrests, on April 25th, 1999, 10,000-15,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered from dawn until late at night outside the Communist Party headquarters at Zhongnanhai next to Beijing's Forbidden City. The gathering was silent, without posters. Jiang was alarmed by the presence of these petitioners. The ideological supremacy of the Communist Party was, in his view, in danger.
The Government of China set up a dedicated bureaucracy assigned with the task of repressing the Falun Gong. This dedicated bureaucracy has representatives
throughout China. Because it was established on the tenth day of the six month of 1999, it is called, in shorthand, the 610 office. The 610 office has representatives in every province, city, county, university, government department and government-owned business in China.
Former president Jiang's mandate to the 610 office was to "eradicate" Falun Gong.
Repression of Falun Gong included sending thousands upon thousands of its practitioners to prisons and labour camps beginning in the summer of 1999. The US State Department's 2005 country report on China, for example, indicates that its police run hundreds of detention centres, with the 340 re-education-through-labour ones alone having a holding capacity of about 300,000 persons. The report also indicates that the number of Falun Gong practitioners who died in custody was estimated to be from a few hundred to a few thousand.
As the report itself notes, the FLG's allegations of organ harvesting are essentially unprovable because the scene of such a crime would be sanitized leaving no hard evidence. So theFLG's claim depends on circumstantial evidence for confirmation or disproof. Kilgour and Matas examined the circumstantial evidence (much of it provided by the FLG ) seeking, they claim, disproof of the crime. But they instead found that the circumstantial evidence seemed complete in scope, and it painted a coherent picture. NowKilgour and Matas spend much of their time traveling about, trying to draw the attention of the world's elite to their findings. I suggest every person who fancies himself a humanist should read the report, as it is written in straightforward, succinct English.
A couple of days ago a stranger (who I later discovered has a blog devoted to his debunking cause) sent me a polite email explaining that he doubted organ harvesting was real because he didn't trust the FLG. And he gave me some quality links on the case against the existence of organ harvesting. Much of the material he gave me revolves around one FLG practitioner's testimony and claim that a certain hospital was comparable to Auswitch because it handled so much organ harvesting and operated as a 'concentration camp.' The supposed witness was identified only as "Annie."
Claims of the existence of this Sujiatun Concentration Camp appeared in Epoch Times on March 11, 2006. A few days later, the 'concentration camp' was identified as a hospital, the Liaoning Provincial Thrombosis Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine. It is located in northeast China, in the Sujiatun district of Shenyang city. Claims were made that up to 6000 prisoners were killed there for their organs.
If organ harvesting is real, then the FLG may have made a mistake with this accusation because it proved readily debunkable. The U.S. State Department sent investigators to the hospital and they returned convinced that it was a normal hospital. A reporter from the Ottawa Citizen also visited Sujiatun and wrote an extensive report on organ harvesting allegations and his lingering doubts over the issue. Here are some of his words:
human rights lawyer. So reading the report and considering its authors, it is hard not to feel shocked.
The boiler building that was supposedly used as a crematorium was in plain sight, with windows and a door that open to the quadrangle at the centre of the main hospital building. The door to the building could be seen from any of the wards that look out on the quadrangle from three of the four sides of the hospital. It seemed unlikely that 2,000 cadavers could be brought to the building unseen, if not by the patients in the wards, then by residents of the seven-storey apartment building directly across the street, which had a direct sight line to the quadrangle.
When I returned to Canada, I called Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour to talk about Sujiatun and their findings.
They were unable to see Sujiatun, or anywhere else in China, they said, because the Chinese government refused their requests to visit while working on their report in May and June 2006.
Their first report, issued in July 2006, concluded there had been "large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners." They found Annie credible, but said her testimony was relied on only where it was "corroborative and consistent with other evidence." Their findings stood without Annie's claims aboutSujiatun, Mr. Matas said.
Annie's original allegation was the reason they were asked to investigate, he told me. Her story was included in their work only as the "historical narrative," he said.
"We didn't rely on her," Mr. Matas said. "We looked at all the evidence together and came to that conclusion." I pressed him on whether he believed the story aboutSujiatun.
"We don't have the records, we can't get into that level of detail," he said.
Mr. Wu's expertise makes him a highly credible source and, because of his personal experience, the Falun Gong could not accuse him of bias in favour of China's government. Mr. Wu stands among the few to publicly deny claims that Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs. There is, he says, simply no compelling evidence to support them.
Wu believes that run-of-the-mill executed prisoners (from the Laogai system of judicial incarceration) provide all the necessary organs for China's organ trade, not that he thinks that is proper. But he doesn't trust theFLG, feeling their Sujiatun claims belie their dishonesty.
If 4500 practitioners' organs are removed [at Sujiatun], then averagely 1500 each year and 120 each month will have their organs removed and then murdered. It is technically impossible and the actual environment ofSujiatun does not seem to allow such large scale operations.
So the counterargument to to the counterargument of harvesting allegations comes down to the murkiness of the Laojiao RTL system of punishment that gives China's police almost a free hand to administer arbitrary injustice against, not hard criminals, but petty criminals and thought criminals. As the global media converges on Beijing for the Olympics, we can only hope that visiting journalists do their job with gusto and tell the outside world the basic truths about crime and punishment in the Middle Kingdom.
Is it possible to be optimistic? Only, in my opinion, if the enemies of the CCP succeed in their own propaganda campaigns, but they are up against a very powerful adversary that seems to have its way with the foreign press more often than not. A Google search on the term "reeducation through labor" yields fewer than 30,000 hits, meaning the term is not widely known in the West. If you happen to know a journalist currently in Beijing, do send him a copy of theCIPFG's Olympic Guide to China's Labor Camps. And you had better encrypt it first.