UK Member of Parliament: “The repression, imprisonment and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners should cease”

Keith Hill MP for Streatham made the following speech on Thursday 11th October in the UK House of Commons.

I am very pleased to speak for the first time in more than nine years as a Back Bencher under your chairmanship, Mr. Chope. I congratulate the Foreign Affairs Committee on their excellent report and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) on his presentation of it. I do not intend to detain the House for long, partly because other hon. Members will be anxious to speak and partly because I want to raise an aspect of human rights in China. China is referred to in the report, but I am well aware that it was only six months ago that the House debated the FAC's report on east Asia in this Chamber and that China was the main focus of that debate.

The issue that I want to raise is the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China and, in particular, the horrendous allegations of the systematic and organised harvesting of their bodily organs. I raise those shocking matters at the instigation of my constituent, Ms Youyan Li, and especially after my meetings with her elderly parents. I may mention their names because they are now safely settled in Australia: Mr. Baoging Li and Mrs. Jinghang Liu. They are both Falun Gong practitioners. Both were arrested several times in China. Mrs. Liu was forcibly subjected to blood tests and other forms of medical examination, which we believe were the preliminary stages of organ harvesting.

The persecution of Falun Gong practitioners is well attested. Amnesty International reported in 2001 that the Chinese Government had adopted three strategies to crush Falun Gong: violence against practitioners who refuse to renounce their beliefs; brainwashing to force all known practitioners to abandon and denounce Falun Gong; and a media campaign to turn public opinion against Falun Gong. Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, reported in 2005 on the alleged ill treatment and torture of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners. The US State Department's country report on China, for the same year, indicated that the number of Falun Gong practitioners dying in custody was estimated to be between a few hundred and a few thousand.

What is this Falun Gong that attracts such violence from the Chinese authorities? It appears to be a spiritual technique based on traditional Chinese breathing exercises. It includes such exercises, plus meditation and certain moral principles derived from Buddhist and Taoist teachings. Among other things, its practitioners are guided by concepts that translate as truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance. Falun Gong is not an organised movement. It has no members, just adherents. It has no political platform. It seems to attract middle-aged, middle class people rather like my constituent's parents, both retired and both former award-winning scientists.

Why, then, is the repression of Falun Gong so violent—so particularly virulent? The answer is perhaps twofold. First, there is the scale of the movement. By 1999, when President Jiang Zemin outlawed Falun Gong and set up the notorious "610 office" to lead the repressions, the number of practitioners ran into the millions. In Beijing alone, there were more than 2,000 practice stations. Secondly, its value system—truth, tolerance, forbearance—was presumably seen as a challenge to the corrupt and ideologically bankrupt Chinese Communist party.

Will Hutton, in The Writing on the Wall, his new and rather good book on China, writes:
"Although the Falun Gong is regarded in the west as a harmless creed that should not be persecuted, its attraction and threat must not be underestimated. It is seen by both the party and many of its adherents as offering an idealism that the party lacks."
Nevertheless, the case remains that Falun Gong is just a value system and a way of living. Its persecution by the Chinese authorities is quite indefensible, as is the entire record of Chinese human rights abuse against Tibetans, Christians, Uighurs, democracy activists and human rights defenders. However, the charge against the Chinese Government of the mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners is more serious still. It is the charge of harvesting healthy organs to supply a transplant industry that has expanded greatly in China in recent years and been enormously lucrative for the hospitals and surgeons practising in it.

I wish to acknowledge the work of two Canadians, David Matas and David Kilgour, whose reports on allegations of the organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China, published in July 2006 and January 2007, will form the main source material of most of my subsequent remarks. In May 2006, David Kilgour interviewed a woman using the pseudonym Annie, who said that her surgeon husband had told her that he had personally removed the corneas of approximately 2,000 anaesthetised Falun Gong prisoners in Sujiatun hospital in Shenyang City, in north-east China, during the two years before October 2003, at which point he refused to continue. The surgeon made it clear to his wife that none of the cornea "donors" survived, because other surgeons removed other vital organs and all the bodies were then cremated.

Annie, it should be emphasised, is not a Falun Gong practitioner. Indeed, it has been put to me that for many, if not most, Falun Gong practitioners, the most direct evidence of the practice of organ harvesting comes from a non-Falun Gong source. For obvious reasons, there is a veil of silence over the practice: the dead cannot speak and neither can their families, because it appears that large numbers of Falun Gong prisoners decline to identify themselves in order to protect their families. Members of that population of unidentified prisoners can therefore simply disappear without anyone outside the prison system being any the wiser. And who, among the surgeons and medical staff, would admit participation in the transplants of organs from the living bodies of Falun Gong prisoners, particularly considering that many operations are carried out in military hospitals by surgeons wearing military uniforms, their silence reinforced by military discipline?

According to public reports, in the six years before the ban on Falun Gong in 1999, the number of transplants in China averaged 3,000 a year. In the six years from 2000 to 2005, they averaged 10,000 a year. Where did the increase come from? Not from family donors—there appears to be a deep cultural aversion in China to organ donation. It is estimated that at least 98 per cent of organs for transplants come from non-family sources. Nor did the increase come from executed criminals. China, of course, executes more criminals than the rest of the world put together. There are still more than 90 capital offences, including political and economic crimes in which there has been no violence. The Chinese Government have themselves acknowledged the use of prisoners sentenced to death as a source of organs for transplants.

The use of capital punishment and the harvesting of the organs of executed criminals—obviously without their consent—are both to be condemned wholeheartedly, but they do not explain the increase in the number of transplant operations since 1999. According to tabulations based on Amnesty International reports, the average number of executed criminals in each of the six years to 1999 was 1,680; in the six years from 2000 to 2005 it was 1,616. There has to be another source. The increase cannot be explained by improvements in technology, because the Chinese were perfectly able to do transplants in the 1990s. It is true that there has been a big new investment in transplant centres. There were only 22 liver transplant centres operating in China before 1999, and there were 500 in mid-April 2006. That investment expanded capacity, but it did not expand the source, nor does it explain why the websites of Chinese hospitals have been able to advertise waiting times for kidney transplants of one, two or at most four weeks. By contrast, the average waiting time is 27 months in the UK and just over three years in the United States.

The Canadian investigators, Matas and Kilgour, were unable to visit China. However, they used Mandarin speakers to call hospitals and transplant doctors and ask about transplants. Sometimes the callers were referred to prisons or courts. I wish to quote a passage from the report. It states:
"In early June, 2006, an official at the Mishan city detention centre told a telephone caller that the centre then had at least five or six male Falun Gong prisoners under 40 years of age available as organ suppliers. A doctor at Shanghai's Zhongshan hospital in mid March of 2006 said that all of his organs come from Falun Gong practitioners. A doctor at Qianfoshan hospital in Shandong in March implied that he then had organs from Falun Gong persons and added that in April there would be 'more of these kinds of bodies...' In May, Dr. Lu of the Minzu hospital in Nanning city said organs from Falun Gong practitioners were not available at his institution and suggested the caller call Guangzhou to get them. He also admitted that he earlier went to prisons to select healthy Falun Gong persons in their 30s to provide their organs."

There are only two kinds of witnesses of organ harvesting, but the victims die and what remains of their bodies is burned, and the perpetrators are unlikely to confess. However, I am convinced that there is sufficient evidence to establish a strong case that organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners exists.

I conclude by referring to the experiences of my constituent's mother, Mrs. Jinghang Liu. She is 66 years of age and was arrested six times and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. She is now an Australian citizen. In August this year, she wrote to Prime Minister Howard to ask him to raise the issue of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners when he met President Hu Jintao at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit. Mrs Liu wrote:
"In the end of 2000, I was taken to the prison hospital along with four other Falun Gong practitioners. We were forced to take medical examinations under the threats of electrical batons. The exams were comprehensive, including blood, X-ray, urine and optical tests. At that time, I wondered about the purpose of the exams because it obviously was not driven by concern about Falun Gong practitioners' health. But I just couldn't figure it out. During my detention, I also witnessed a large number of Falun Gong practitioners who refused to give personal details."

She wrote that they "were numbered and transferred to unknown places. One day a young female practitioner who was in the same cell with me was called out. She never came back. She had a fair and pretty face with long braids. She was an artist."

In July 2006, a law banning the sale of organs in China came into effect. Since the publication of the Matas and Kilgour reports last year and this, it appears that the number of transplants has come down significantly. However, we have reason to believe that the practice of organ harvesting continues; if it does not, it is for the Chinese authorities to prove that that is the case. They should allow independent, third-party investigations in China and I very much hope that the British Government will press for that in their discussions with the Chinese authorities. Let us be clear: harvesting the organs of unwilling donors is a crime against humanity and it is for the Chinese to take action to end this evil. The repression, imprisonment and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners should also cease. I hope that, in their dialogue with the Chinese on human rights, Ministers will press for an end to that persecution.

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