Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Human Rights Future of Communist China: David Matas

The Human Rights Future of Communist China
By David Matas
Remarks prepared for a University of Manitoba forum on the Future of China 5 March 2009


The Communist Party of China has engaged systematically in human rights violations against its people from the moment it seized power. For most of its rule, the Communist Party kept China as a hermit kingdom, disengaged from the rest of the world.

The Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the collapse of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe terrified the Chinese rulers. They realized that more than their socialist ideology was at risk. Their own careers, their accumulation of wealth and privilege, their immunity from prosecution for the crimes they had committed hung in the balance.

So they shifted from communism to capitalism, abandoning an ideology they understood was no longer tenable. Being capitalist meant being part of the global economy. A shift from communism to capitalism meant a shift from isolation to engagement.

Has this shift improved the human rights picture in China, made China more of a right respecting state? In my view, regrettably not. I come to the conclusion from personal experience.

David Kilgour and I wrote a report in which we came to the conclusion that China hospitals had been harvesting organs from detained Falun Gong practitioners and selling the harvested organs for huge sums to transplant tourists. Our report came out in a first version in July 2006 and a second version in January 2007. Today I do not want to talk about that report except tangentially, but rather what I experienced of the Communist Party of China from doing that report.

1. Gao Zhisheng

My first shock came from our efforts to get into China for the purpose of doing research about our report. Because I am an immigration lawyer in Canada I know that an application for a visa is more likely to succeed when the application is accompanied by an invitation from someone in the country from which the visa is sought. We cast about in several directions for an invitation from China to do this work. The person who responded was Gao Zhisheng.

David Kilgour and I asked for a meeting with the Chinese embassy in Canada to discuss terms of entry. Our request for a meeting was accepted. But the person who met with David Kilgour was interested only in denying the allegations and not in arranging for our visit. So we never made a formal visa application and never submitted Gao's invitation to the Chinese embassy.

Shortly thereafter, on August 15, Gao was arrested, tortured, prosecuted for inciting subversion, convicted on December 12, and sentenced on December 22 to three years suspended for five years. Though the jail sentence was suspended, he went into house arrest where he remains to this day.

2. Censorship

Once our report came out, Chinese authorities did their best wherever we went to try to shut us up. Wherever we went, the Chinese consulate, if they knew about the event, would call up the local hosts urging cancellation, suggesting that hosting the event would be considered an unfriendly act towards China and that our event represented a security threat to the institution.

i) Melbourne On a trip to Australia, in August 2006, David Kilgour spoke on our report at a forum in Melbourne hosted by Liberal Party member Victor Perton. The Melbourne Chinese consulate sent a letter to all members of the Legislative Assembly asking them not to attend the forum.

ii) Helsinki

Similarly, when I was in Finland in September 2006 meeting with the Finnish parliamentary human rights committee, their chair informed me that the Chinese embassy had called, urging them not to meet with me. The chair replied that embassy officials were welcome to meet separately with the committee, but that the committee would nonetheless meet with me.

iii) Tel Aviv

I went to Israel to speak on May 30, 2007 at a symposium on organ transplants at Beilinson hospital near Tel Aviv. When I arrived in Israel on the Sunday before the event, I was told that the Chinese embassy had asked Israeli Foreign Affairs to cancel the event at which I was asked to speak.

The Foreign Affairs Assistant Deputy Minister Avi Nir and the Health Assistant Deputy Minister Boz Lev put the request to the Beilinson hosting hospital, which refused. Foreign Affairs and Health then asked the hospital to withdraw the invitation to me to speak even if the program continued. The hospital refused that too.

Foreign Affairs and Health then asked the hospital to withdraw the invitation to Roy Bar Ilan, a Falun Gong practitioner, to be part of the closing panel. This the hospital did, even though the program, as advertised even on the day of the event included his name.

iv) San Francisco

I was scheduled to speak 5 April 2008 at San Francisco State University. The organizers of this event bought a display ad in the San Francisco Chronicle advertising the event, an ad the Chinese consulate in San Francisco could not miss. Shortly before the event, the University cancelled the venue, citing security concerns.

The organizers at the last minute rescheduled the event to the Nikko Hotel. The University put up signs saying the event, not just the venue, had been cancelled. The organizers placed helpers at the University to redirect people.

v) Gold Coast

On 7 July 2008, organizers hired a theatre at Bond University in the Gold Coast for a Chinese human rights forum August 4 where I was scheduled to speak. The person taking bookings was new and had everything cleared from superiors. The University said they would notify all their students and staff about the forum internally. The organizers were also allowed to put up posters around the campus promoting the event for 4 August.

On 28 July, three weeks later, and one week before the event, the organizers received an e-mail that said in its entirety:

    "This is to advise that the venue is no longer available for your event. A credit has been processed against your credit card."

Vice-Chancellor Robert Stable, when one of the organizers managed to reach him, said that he and the Committee met and decided the event was political and that they don't allow political events from outside. No matter what was said, he didn't care and said that the decision was final. The event was rescheduled to the Life Education Centre in Broadbeach.

In the case of San Francisco State University and Bond University, I do not know that the local Chinese consulates had contacted the universities asking them to cancel the events. But I do know that these consulates would have been derelict in what they considered to be their duty if their had been no such contact. Moreover the substantial delays between the arrangements and the cancellations at both universities as well as the wide publicity the planned forums were given meant that the local Chinese consulates likely would have been aware of them.

vi) The CBC

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation announced that it was broadcasting on November 6 a TV documentary by Peter Rowe on the persecution of the Falun Gong in China which featured our report.

The Government of China contacted the CBC and the CBC pulled the show. It was replaced with an old documentary on Pakistan because, so the CBC spokesman said, recent turmoil in Pakistan made the rebroadcast timely.

But, as it turned, out timeliness was not the concern. The CBC went back to the producer Peter Rowe and asked for changes. He initially balked and then made some. But the changes he made were not enough. The CBC made more changes on its own after the producer refused to cooperate further.

The CBC version of the documentary was broadcast November 20. Since the original version had already been aired and is now available on You Tube, it is possible to compare the two.

What are the differences? It did not surprise us to find that the deletions were hard evidence to substantiate our findings of the mass killings of Falun Gong. One item deleted was the playing of tapes of telephone admissions from hospitals in China acknowledging that they were selling Falun Gong organs. Chinese government denials remained.

The additions were typical Chinese propaganda. The CBC on is own, for instance, added this screen to the documentary:

    "Amnesty International does not have conclusive evidence to back up the allegation the Falun Gong are killed for their organs."

It should be obvious that silence is not evidence of anything. Amnesty International silence on a human rights violation is not proof and not even evidence that a violation is not occurring. The organization does not claim to be a verifier or source or encyclopedia of all human rights violations.

The CBC, before the commercial which led into the documentary, flashed on screen with footage of Falun Gong practitioners a bit of Chinese propaganda straight up: "China regards Falun Gong as a cult". For people who know nothing about the Falun Gong that sort of introduction was bound to mislead.

3. Evidence destruction

A second Chinese government reaction to our report was destruction of the evidence on which our report was based. Much of the evidence in our report comes from the Government of China itself, from hospital web sites and Chinese medical research. The Government of China has been systematically taking down or altering the sites on which we have relied.

We have electronically archived all our source material. Any one who wants to see what we saw can go to the links in our report and see our source material. However, this alteration and destruction of the original sources means that updating our report becomes difficult. We know what the situation was at the time the report was written. However, we know less about the situation today because the types of information we got yesterday are not available today.

4. Counter Propaganda

A third Chinese government reaction to our report was counter propaganda. The counter propaganda either misrepresents our report or denies the sources without foundation. Here are a few notable examples.

i) A claim of rumour

At the symposium on organ transplants at Beilinson hospital near Tel Aviv where I spoke on May 30, 2007, the Chinese Embassy to Israel circulated a statement at the symposium that the report David Kilgour and I wrote on organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners contains:

    "verbal evidence without sources, unverifiable witnesses and huge amount of unconvincingly conclusive remarks based on words like "probably", "possibly", "maybe" and "it is said", etc. All these only call into question the truth of the report."

Yet, all one has to do to is to look at the report to see that every statement we make in our report is independently verifiable. There is no verbal evidence without sources. Where we rely on witnesses we identify them and quote what they say.

The report is on the internet and is word searchable. Anyone who searches it can see that the words "probably", "possibly", "maybe" and the phrase "it is said" are not used in our report, not even once.

ii) Shi Bingyi

One basis for our conclusion that Falun Gong practitioners were the primary source of organs for transplants was the large increase in transplants coincident with the start of persecution of the Falun Gong. Yet, the only other significant source of organs for transplants, prisoners sentenced to death, remained constant.

To document the overall increase in transplants, our report cited Shi Bingyi, vice-chair of the China Medical Organ Transplant Association. We indicated that he said that there were about 90,000 transplants in total up until the end of 2005.

Yet there were approximately 30,000 transplants done in China before the end of 1999 and 18,500 in the six year period 1994 to 1999 inclusive. That meant that transplants went up from 18,500 in the six year period prior to the persecution of the Falun Gong to 60,000 in the six year period after the persecution of the Falun Gong began. Since the death penalty volume was constant, that left 41,500 transplants in the six year period 2000 to 2005 where the only explanation for the sourcing was Falun Gong practitioners.

UN rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak asked the Chinese government to explain the discrepancy between organs available for transplants and numbers from identifiable sources. The Chinese government, in a response sent to Professor Nowak by letter dated March 19, 2007 and published in the report of Professor Nowak to the UN Human Rights council dated February 19, 2008, that

    "Professor Shi Bingyi expressly clarified that on no occasion had he made such a statement or given figures of this kind, and these allegations and the related figures are pure fabrication."

Moreover, the Government of China, lest there be any doubt, asserted that

    "China's annual health statistics are compiled on the basis of categories of health disorder and not in accordance with the various types of treatment provided"

Shi Bingyi was interviewed in a video documentary produced by Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong media outlet. That video shows Shi Bingyi on screen saying what the Government of China, in its response to Nowak, indicates he said, that the figures we quote from him he simply never gave. He says on the video:

    "I did not make such a statement because I have no knowledge of these figures I have not made detailed investigation on this subject how many were carried out and in which year. Therefore I have no figures to show. So I could not have said that."

Yet, the actual source of the quotation is footnoted in our report. It is a Chinese source, the Health News Network. The article from the Network is posted on the official website for transplantation professionals in China, . The text, dated 2006-03-02, states, in part, in translation:

    "Professor Shi said that in the past 10 years, organ transplantation in China had grown rapidly; the types of transplant operations that can be performed were very wide, ranging from kidney, liver, heart, pancreas, lung, bone marrow, cornea; so far, there had been over 90,000 transplants completed country-wide; last year along, there was close to 10,000 kidney transplants and nearly 4,000 liver transplants completed."

Though the Government of China has taken down many of the citations in our report, this citation remains. The original source of the information remains available within China through an official website source.

Moreover, the information in this article continues to be recycled in Chinese publications. The official web site of the Minister of Science and Technology of the People's Republic of China posts a newsletter of June 20, 2008 at < > which states:

    "Up to date, China has performed some 85,000 organ transplants, only next to the United States in number. In recent years, China performed organ transplants on more than 10,000 patients a year...Liver transplants have exceeded 10,000 in number... Heart transplants went over 100 in number..."

The number of 90,000 transplants in 2006 and 85,000 transplants in 2008 do not match and call for an explanation only those who provide the statistics can give. What is striking about the later article, aside from the statistical mismatch, is that it flies in the face of the official Chinese statement to Professor Nowak that China's health statistics are compiled on the basis of categories of health disorder and not in accordance with the various types of treatment provided.

So what we have is a statement from Shi Bingyi on an official Chinese web site which remains extant to this day, a statement which Shi Bingyi publicly denies ever having said. Moreover, despite the continued presence on this official website of a statement showing that Shi Bingyi says what we wrote he said, the Chinese government accuses us of fabricating the words we attribute to Shi Bingyi.

Neither the Government of China nor Shi Bingyi claim that Health News Network has misquoted or misunderstood what Shi Bingyi said. There has been no effort to hide or mask or take down from the internet the publicly posted article of the Health New Network where Shi Bingyi is quoted. The continuation of this article on an official Chinese web site at the same time as China is removing from the internet so much other information about organ transplants which we used to come to our conclusions amounts to a continuation to assert what is to be found in this article.

iii) Lu Guoping

If the statement from Shi Bingyi is strange, the statement from Lu Guoping is stunning. One trail of evidence which led to our conclusion of organ harvesting was investigator phone calls. Our investigators called hospitals throughout China, pretending to be relatives of patients who needed transplants, asking the hospitals if they had organs from Falun Gong practitioners for transplant. The justification for the questions was that, since Falun Gong is an exercise regime, the Falun Gong practitioners would be healthy and their organs would be healthy. Our callers got recorded admissions throughout China that hospitals did have Falun Gong organs for sale.

One such admission came from Lu Guoping at Minzu Hospital of Guangxi Autonomous Region. He said, on a recording, that his hospital used to have organs from Falun Gong practitioners, but no longer has them. He referred the caller to a hospital in Guangzhou and assured the caller that this hospital had Falun Gong organs. Here are some of the exchanges:

    "Q: Didn't you use Falun Gong practitioners' organs before?
    A: Now it has changed from before.
    Q: Then they [the hospital in Guangzhou to which the caller was referred] use organs from Falun Gong practitioners?
    A: Right, right, right.
    Q: It is said that the organs from Falun Gong practitioners are relatively healthy and better. Do they use this kind as well?
    A: Right, right, right. Usually the healthy ones are chosen
    Q: What I mean is that the organs from Falun Gong practitioner are better. Do they use this kind as well?
    A: Right, right, right.
    Q: ...what you used before, were they from detention centres or prisons?
    A: From prisons.
    Q: Oh, prisons. And it was from healthy Falun Gong practitioners, the healthy Falun Gong right?
    A: Right, right, right. We would choose the good ones, because we will assure the quality of our operations.
    Q: That means you choose the organs yourself?
    A: Right, right, right.
    Q: ...Usually how old is the age of the organ supplier?
    A: Usually in their 30s.
    Q: In their 30s. Then you will go to the prison to select yourself?
    A: Right, right, right. We must select it."

The Phoenix TV documentary which interviewed Shi Bingyi also interviewed Lu Guoping. In this documentary, Lu Guoping acknowledges having received the call from our caller. He confirms that he referred our caller to a hospital in Guangzhou. He acknowledges that the caller asked whether that hospital used organs from Falun Gong practitioners. What changes in the documentary is the answer he said he gave. In the TV interview, he says:

    "I told her I was not involved in the surgical operations and had no idea where the organs come from. I told her I could not answer her questions. She then asked me whether these organs come from prisons. I replied no to her in clear cut terms"

On the video, Dr. Lu is presented with a partial transcript of the call made to him found in our report. He reacts by saying:

    "The record of the phone call does not conform to the truth. Many parts of it have been distorted or mutilated. The report says that when I was asked where the organs removed from Falun Gong people came from, prisons or detention, houses I said they came from the prisons. But this was not my answer....The report also says that when the person who called me asked whether we have to go to the prison to select body organs I answered yes and added we have to go there to make the choice. This question was actually not raised at all then."

There is no indication in the Phoenix TV documentary that we have a recording where Dr. Lu says in his own voice the words attributed to him in our report. Nor does either the doctor or the interviewer make any attempt to explain how we could possibly have got the voice of the doctor on a recording saying what he denies saying, interspersed seamlessly with what he admits saying, if he did not say what he denies saying. The suggestion left by the documentary is that we have altered a transcript. Because there is no acknowledgement of a recording, there is no suggesting we have altered the recording.

So here we have on our recording an admission from a doctor that he used to go to a prison to select Falun Gong practitioners for their organs. He does not just say that someone else did this. He says that he used to do this himself. Moreover, we have a further admission that the voice we have on our recording is the voice of the very person our recording says he is. This is as close to a smoking gun as we are ever likely to get.

5. Threats

At Columbia University, an organization titled the Columbia University Chinese Students and Scholars Association had posted this threat on its web site in April 2007 when I was speaking there on our Report: "Anyone who offends China will be executed no matter how far away they are".

When I spoke at the forum in Broadbeach, Gold Coast, Australia August 4, 2008, the forum was connected through the internet to participants in China, over 150 in total. The local as well as the internet participants asked questions after the formal presentation was over. One of the internet participants was a Chinese government police official. This is the question, in translation, he asked me:

    "Are you afraid of death? You are brutally interfering in our Party's internal policies. Are you afraid of our revenge? Our revenge against you, we'll take revenge against you, are you not afraid of that?"

6. Universal periodic review

David Kilgour and I expressed regret that China had chosen to reject so quickly so many basic recommendations made in the report of the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. We were dismayed that China had chosen systematically to reject those recommendations which would prevent the killing of Falun Gong practitioners for their organs to be used in transplants and which would make possible the bringing to justice any perpetrators of this abuse.

David Kilgour and I condemned the Government of China for its refusal to support the UPR recommendations to:

i) guarantee all citizens of China the exercise of religious freedom, freedom of belief and freedom of worshipping in private. As Canada in its statement to the Working Group noted, respect for this freedom includes respecting the freedom of belief of the Falun Gong;

ii) publish death penalty statistics. As the UN rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak and UN rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Asma Jahangir have both pointed out, the provision of these statistics is necessary to determine if any explanation can be given for the discrepancy in the number of transplants between the years 2000 to 2005 and the numbers from identifiable sources of organs for transplants other than Falun Gong practitioners.

iii) abolish all forms of arbitrary detention. The detention of large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners without charge and without information about their location facilitates their abuse.

iv) implement the recommendations of the Committee against Torture of November 2008. The Committee had recommended that China conduct or commission an independent investigation of the claims that some Falun Gong practitioners have been subjected to torture and used for organ transplants and take measures, as appropriate, to ensure that those responsible for such abuses are prosecuted and punished,

v) take effective measures to ensure that lawyers can defend their clients without fear of harassment. Lawyer Gao Zhisheng who has defended Falun Gong clients has been tortured and disappeared. He was released briefly in February and, after he released a statement about his torture, was rearrested.


What I see from the work David Kilgour and I have done in attempting to spread awareness of our report is that Chinese engagement with the rest of the world has not led to increased respect for human rights in China. On the contrary, it has led to Chinese government attempts to expand repression abroad.

Chinese global engagement has meant that we can no longer just focus on what is happening in China in order to combat Chinese government human rights abuses. We must be vigilant about the efforts of the Government of China abroad.


David Matas is a Winnipeg based international human rights lawyer.

No comments: