All over Auckland, New Zealand, very well mobilized and determined Falun Gong protesters were prominent. It was impossible to walk any distance without running into one organized group of protesters or the other. On major streets, conference venue of the IBA, street corners, shopping areas, armed with leaflets, posters, graphic and often gory rights abuses photographs, investigative reports, website addresses and CD-ROMs which they distributed to passers-by, they were ubiquitous, just about everywhere - in your face, even - silently protesting alleged persecution of the movement and violation of their human rights by the Chinese government. They even had silent dramatic presentations going on for hours on end, in the cold spring New Zealand weather. They were impossible to ignore. FUNKE ABOYADE who was in Auckland was intrigued and spoke with one of the groups to find out what the protest was all about. One theme which played out strongly is that no matter where and no matter how long it takes, no matter how long they have left office, the long arm of the law will always catch up with leaders who violate the fundamental human rights of their people.
Who can forget that image of the lone, unarmed student protester as he stood, arms akimbo, right in the path of an armored vehicle and was mercilessly mowed down by it in full international media glare? Living history. Tiananmen Square, People's Republic of China, 1989. It earned resounding international opprobrium and for many years after, it was impossible for China to live down or forget. Indeed, this writer recalls that that tragic image was used over and over again for years thereafter by CNN in its promo of its coverage of news around the world.
The history of the People's Republic of China under communist rule has often been bloody and replete with human rights violations. For me, having studied at an impressionable age, the Chinese communist cultural revolution in history classes in secondary school, whenever the country's name was evoked, images of millions of urban dwellers, many of them professionals, being forced to the Chinese countryside to labour camps to forcibly imbibe the tenets of communism and Chairman Mao's infallible red book, still came up many years after those history classes.
China has of course, since gone through dramatic changes and reform in the way it practices communism, indeed, the Chinese government has taken great pains to open up the country to the outside world, particularly after the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident.
But it appears it is not yet uhuru for the Chinese government in terms of international public relations and perceptions of its human rights records. Falun Gong protesters are set to fight the battle of their lives with the government on the streets of foreign countries and in various courts around the world to demand and press for the right to practice their beliefs unhindered and to bring to justice those they say have grossly violated their human rights.
What is Falun Gong? Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient form of qigong, according to the various information leaflets distributed by the protesters. Qigong, also referred to as Chinese yoga, is the practice of mind and body refinement, often done through slow-moving exercises and meditation. Qigong has been traced to as far back as 3,000 years ago and through the ages, some schools of qigong have taken the form of religion, some have been handed down privately in monasteries and temples, whilst some have taken the form of popular exercises. Falun Gong itself was begun in China in 1992 and is currently reportedly practiced in over 60 countries.
According to those information leaflets, an office, 'the leadership team for dealing with the Falun Gong problem' was established by the Chinese Communist Party on June 10, 1999 and has since come to be known as the 610 Office. The 610 office reportedly has branches in all Chinese cities, villages, government agencies and schools and purportedly is allowed to exist outside the established framework of the Chinese Communist Party and government. Falun Gong practitioners have however accused the 610 Office of genocide, alleging torture and killings in various detention centers and labour camps, as well as outright attempts to eliminate them in the face of their refusal to give up their beliefs.
THISDAY LAW asked Janet Gao, one of the members of a group of silent protesters on Queen's Street, the major shopping district in Auckland, about Falun Gong.
'Falun Gong is an ancient Chinese exercise. It is based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. China has over 100 million people who do the exercise and the government is not happy, they think people should stick with, and accept communism and not any other thing.'
Is Falun Gong a religion, we wanted to know?
'It's not a religion, it's a meditation exercise.'
So, what does the Chinese government have against meditation exercises?
'Because' replied Gao, 'in China, 100 million people do the exercise, so the former [president] of China Jiang Zemin was scared about the large number of people who believed in something other than communism.'
And they're still being persecuted up to now, we asked?
THISDAY LAW commented that China has opened up to the outside world now, so why would the Chinese government persecute a religion?
According to Gao, 'This is not a religion, it's an exercise, we're not political. Our human rights are being violated. Our principles are truthfulness, compassion and forbearance, this is what we believe in.'
Those three principles form the backbone of Falun Gong's philosophy and its adherents aspire to live by them in their daily lives, striving to achieve, over time, 'a state of kindness, selflessness and inner balance'.
Janet, an accounts administrator, who is now a New Zealand citizen told THISDAY LAW, 'Persecution started in 1999. I went back to China at the beginning of December, 1999. Then I had not become a New Zealand citizen, but I had a residency permit. I was still holding a Chinese passport. I was arrested in my hotel room. I was talking to my friends in my room. They kicked and arrested all of us -from Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia. I was detained in a cell for one month without any court order and for no reason. I told them that it was my right to do the Falun Gong exercises. The consequence for me was awful! I was punished and had to stand there for more than five hours. They made me assume a flying position, first they made me bend over with my back up the wall, with my arms bent up above my head, which allowed all my blood to flow into my brain.'
How did they know that she practices Falun Gong that they came to arrest her, who told them, THISDAY LAW wanted to know?
'I don't know why. There are a lot of plainclothes operatives from Mainland China, they came to the temple, so I think I was followed by them.'
Whilst in detention did she contact the New Zealand Embassy for help and did they help?
'Yes, after one month I was released'.
THISDAY LAW also spoke with William Wei, another member of the group. Wei is from Australia, of Chinese origin.
You practice Falun Gong?
What do you do, you just meditate? You meditate on politics?! We added jokingly.
'This is nothing to do with politics!' Wei replied in earnest. 'You exercise to be of good health and to be a good person you follow the principles - truthfulness, compassion, tolerance. We believe to follow the law, to be a good citizen, you have to be a good person first. It improves our health and mentality.'
Sounded harmless to us, so we asked, is this incompatible with communism? Why is the government persecuting you?
'This is nothing to do with communism or any political thing!' Wei repeated.
So why is the government after you?
'By 1999, people practising Falun Gong were more than 100 million. The former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin was jealous. He saw it as a threat to his power. There are 1.3 billion people in China' was Wei's explanation.
Presently, law suits have been filed by Falun Gong adherents in some 21 countries around the world, accusing former Chinese premier Jiang Zemin and others of genocide.
Interestingly, the word 'genocide' was coined in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer who grew up in Poland in the Nazi era and subsequently fled to the United States as a refugee. Just two years prior to when Lemkin coined the word, Britain's war Prime Minister, Winston Churchill had been so horrified by the barbarity of Nazi invasion and occupation of Russia, that he had in a famous live broadcast, uttered these memorable words, 'we are in the presence of a crime without a name'. The Nazi atrocities were so great that, until Lemkin's coinage of the word 'genocide', it was said that there was simply no word in the human language that could fully describe it.
Lemkin, determined to prevent in future, further premeditated, systematic eradication of specific groups, was instrumental to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations in 1948.
Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as 'any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such: a) Killing members of the group. b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.'
Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court gives the same definition of genocide.
This definition of genocide is constant, whether in peace or war time.
It is this crime of genocide that Falun Gong practitioners are alleging against the former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. They claim that the methods used are similar to that of the Nazi regime, vis, propaganda, imprisonment, slave labour, food deprivation, psychiatric torture and others. Further, they allege that deaths resulting from torture by the Chinese police are covered up as suicides and the bodies cremated immediately. Very serious allegations indeed.
Wei, who told THISDAY LAW that he was involved in one of the law suits, said, 'I went to South Africa on June 28, this year to assist in a law suit against the Chinese Vice President Zeng Qing Hong and the Minister of Commerce Bo Xi Lai. They are the two close followers of Jiang Zemin who persecuted Falun Gong in China. We filed a law suit there, but two hours after we arrived Johannesburg and were driving, on our way to Pretoria, we were shot at on the freeway by gunmen!'
And it wasn't just a robbery? South Africa's crime rate after all, is one of the highest in the world. How could he be so sure it wasn't a coincidence?
'Nothing to do with robbery' Wei insisted, 'the police classified it as attempted murder! After shooting, they drove their car less than 10 meters away from us!'
Still agitated, recalling the incident, he continued emphatically, 'our driver, an Australian, was shot on both legs. His legs were fractured and doctors say he may not be able to walk ever again. We had to wait and get treated in hospital, we were there two days and left South Africa.' (1)
If they file a law suit outside China, how would that affect their leaders in China, we wanted to know?
'This' replied Wei, 'is what they're most afraid of'.
Why not go to the United Nations or something?
'We have done that in America. We've also filed law suits in New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, ten countries already, but totally 21 countries.'
What's the essence of the court action?
'To try to bring those responsible for the killings to justice, to the international courts, because in China the law is not law, it doesn't work there.'
Don't they enjoy immunity?
'No, former Chinese leaders don't enjoy immunity, even current leaders, if they commit serious human rights abuse, cannot enjoy immunity.'
Have they met with success anywhere yet?
'We just started two years ago.'
Has any country given them hope that they'll be brought to justice?
'In all countries, we've got hope!' laughed Wei.
Indeed, the caliber of high profile lawyers working on those cases, demonstrates the seriousness with which Falun Gong practitioners are taking the matter. One of the lawyers, for instance, Georges-Henri Beauthier a Belgian, is best known for his role in bringing charges against former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. He also successfully brought the first case under Belgium's human rights laws against some of those accused of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Another lawyer, Wolfgang Kaleck, a German, has represented German victims of former Argentine president Jorge Videla who was accused of torturing and killings thousands in the late 70s and early 80s. Yet another, Geoffrey Robertson, QC is helping with the Falun Gong law suits. Robertson is the Chief Justice of the UN War Crimes Commission and President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. U.S. attorney Jaykumar Menon, also working on the Falun Gong law suits, was a lawyer in the civil suit filed against Li Peng, the former Chinese Premier who was sued for the massacre of Chinese students in the 1989 Tianamen Square killings. The list of lawyers is formidable.
Nancy Chen, now an Australian citizen, another member of the protesting group, also had a word with THISDAY LAW. Chen told THISDAY LAW that she has visited Nigeria before. She was in Nigeria for two weeks for the Common Wealth Governments conference, CHOGM last December, in Abuja. She also visited Lagos on that trip. Small world. Fancy a Nigerian meeting a Chinese person who has visited Nigeria, in faraway New Zealand!
As Chen pointed out, the irony is that even communist party members, soldiers in the army, high officials practice Falun Gong.
What! You mean they're not caught? Or they do it in secret? We couldn't help wondering.
'Before the persecution, it was in public' she explained, 'but after the persecution some of them were persecuted.'
The persecution, according to Nancy, has a specific date it began: July 20, 1999.
Nancy, agreeing with the two who had earlier spoken with THISDAY LAW said, 'One more reason why Jiang Zemin persecuted practitioners of Falun Gong was because in 1992 Falun Gong was introduced to the public in China and after seven years, that is by 1999, 100 million people were practicing it in China. This number was much larger than the communist party membership. Also, communists don't believe in God, but Falun Gong practitioners believe God exists.'
Does the Chinese Government persecute Christians, Muslims as well?
'Yes' she said, 'as well as other spiritual groups'.
'Jiang Zemin' Chen continued, 'is being sued in 21 countries, the biggest law case around the world. 27 lawyers are involved in this case around the world. He's being sued for genocide, for torture.'
How many have died?
'1,089 innocent people, most of whom were beaten or tortured to death, including an eight month old baby! They hung up the baby by the ankles and asked the mother to give up the exercise, give up her belief, but she refused, so they killed both her and her baby.'
Falun Gong practitioners allege that they are beaten, shocked with cattle prods in sensitive areas like the genitals, anus and mouth, force-fed human faeces and subjected to other forms of physical and mental torture in a bid to 'transform' or get them to renounce their beliefs. Transformation or brainwashing, for the practitioners simply boils down to a choice between spiritual and physical death.
Whether charges of genocide can be successfully proven against Jiang Zemin and those who allegedly collaborated with him remains to be seen. What is sure however is that for dictators and leaders who commit atrocities, there's no place to hide. As surely as night turns to day, sooner or later, the long arm of international law catches up with them. History is replete with enough examples; the Nuremberg trials after the second world war - even now, some 60 years after the war ended there are professional Nazi bounty hunters seeking those who, in attempts to evade justice, fled to South America after that horrendous war. More recently, the trials to bring to justice those involved in the Rwandan and Sierra Leonean human tragedies, the genocide perpetrated during the Bosnian war of the 1990s and the trials to bring the perpetrators to justice.
For some absolute rulers who committed unspeakable crimes against their own people, cold-hearted, brutal dictators like Idi Dada Amin of Uganda, Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic and Mobutu Sese Seko, they lived out their punishments in their last years, living in abject poverty, deserted by their praise singers, moving from country to country like refugees in vain efforts to find a country that would grant them leave to stay, dying in exile, in disgrace, unloved and unsung, their bodies rejected by their home countries, even in death.
For others, like Sani Abacha, the people were saved by divine intervention, though some attribute the intervention more to the eating of some forbidden Indian apples by the goggled one...
For others like Adolf Hitler, he, rather fortuitously, took his own life rather than be taken alive by the allies and made to account for his grievous crimes against humanity, crimes so horrible and unspeakable that a new word had to be coined to describe them.
Others still, like Augusto Pinochet of Chile, have found that there is no rest, even in old age, with dementia and ill health setting in. Families and relations of the hundreds of 'disappeareds' as they called, will continue in their pursuit to bring him to justice until he is six feet under.
For Milosevic and his ilk, they are fast discovering that no amount of grandstanding will delay the eventual day of judgment for their roles in the Bosnian war crimes which were patterned after the Nazi extermination of the Jews and which played out on televised media to the rest of a stunned world.
Which will it be for Jiang Zemin? Guilty or innocent? Victim or Villain?
(1) Ed. Note - the driver of the vehicle, David Liang, was shot through both ankles. Although there was initial concern that he might not walk again, has made a remarkable recovery.
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