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Saturday, June 25, 2011

David Matas on Falun Gong and Refugee Week


China is too big a player on the international scene for there to be any hope of a resolution condemning its human rights violations in the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council. In the Security Council, China has a veto. In the General Assembly and Human Rights Council it carries too much weight, has too many friends for there to be a hope of condemnation.

China is subject to the Universal Periodic Review, the thematic mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and the UN Committee against Torture established under the Convention against Torture, since China has ratified that Convention. But China just shrugs off the criticism that these mechanisms generate. Because the options for condemning China’s human rights violations are limited, the importance of the remaining options is heightened. In that context, refugee protection as a form of human rights protest looms large.

Yet China generates a refugee population which is far too often denied protection in asylum proceedings for unsound reasons. I refer in particular to practitioners of Falun Gong.

Falun Gong is a set of exercises with a spiritual foundation, begun in 1992 with the teachings of Li Hong Zhi. First encouraged by the Communist Party of China and the Government as beneficial to health, its rapid spread, its spirituality and its non-Communist ideology eventually generated jealousy and fear amongst Party cadres that the Party would lose its ideological supremacy.

The practice in 1999 was banned. Practitioners were arrested and asked to recant. If they did not, they were tortured. If they did not recant after torture, they were disappeared. The disappeared, in the tens of thousands, have been killed for their organs sold at high prices to transplant patients

They represent, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, two thirds of the torture victims in China. Thousands of documented individual named cases have died through this torture. They represent about half of those detained in the arbitrary detention re-education through labour camps, in the hundreds of thousands.

Simply practising Falun Gong, if you are in China, puts you at grave risk. Protesting the violations within China is pointless. Those who do become victims themselves. The most notable such victim is Gao Zhisheng, not a Falun Gong practitioner, but rather a human rights lawyer who protested the victimization of Falun Gong. For that, he was disbarred, his staff was fired and his office was closed down. He was beaten repeatedly, tortured severely and disappeared. His family fled China. To this day, his fate is unknown.

Given that this is so, as long as a refugee claimant establishes credibility, that he or she really is a Falun Gong practitioner, that should be enough. In more than one country, in spite of all this, sound, real, legitimate refugee protection claims of Falun Gong practitioners are rejected for the flimsiest of reasons. The typical rejection goes something like this: Falun Gong is an organization with a membership; the claimant is an ordinary member and not a high profile leader; only the high profile leadership is at risk.

This reasoning is unreal. Falun Gong is not an organization with a membership. It is a set of exercises with a spiritual foundation. It is as improper to refer to someone as a Falun Gong member as to refer to someone as a yoga member or a tai chi member.

There are, outside of China, some voluntary associations of some Falun Gong practitioners. However, there is no obligation to join any of them to practice the exercises. And these associations have no counterparts within China.

Some Falun Gong practitioners are persecuted worse than others. But the reason has nothing to do with their place in a non-existent organizational hierarchy. It has rather to do with the tenacity of their beliefs. Those who abandon the practice of Falun Gong out of fear are left alone. Those who refuse to recant are tortured, arbitrarily disappeared and killed.

Individual protests against Chinese government persecution manifest some level of organization, in the sense that some people may tell other people of the protest. Yet, because there is no formal organization, no one has particular titles or duties. Individuals take upon themselves, event by event, to do what they want.

The only way someone can obtain a high profile is through media exposure. The Government of China censors any news about the Falun Gong and blocks out any outside news. It is impossible for a Falun Gong practitioner to obtain a profile in China as a practitioner.

Moreover, in light of the banning and severe repression of Falun Gong, even those most active in protesting the brutality of the regime do everything they can to maintain a low profile. Anything else would put them at risk.

The Government of China knows who is a practitioner through monitoring e-mails and telephone conversations, spying, informing and denunciations extracted through torture. These techniques know no hierarchy. The Government of China has an extensive monitoring, spy and informant network both at home and abroad whose primary task is gathering information about the practice of Falun Gong. Practitioners in turn react by being as secretive as possible, keeping quiet their practice and protest from as many people as possible, including immediate family members.

It is impossible to say that only some practitioners and not others would come to the attention of the Government of China through its monitors, spies, informants and torture victims. Monitoring, spying, informing and torture can potentially lead to the detection of any practitioner. Even if a practitioner does the exercises in his or her home and an informant sees it through the window, the informant can report the practitioner to the police who then, if they are doing their job, will come to take the practitioner away.

A misplaced refusal of a Falun Gong practitioner refugee claim is not only a tragedy for the claimant. It is a license to China to continue to inflict violations on Falun Gong practitioners. If refugee protection countries care to protect only Falun Gong claimants who are high profile leaders of Falun Gong organizations, an empty category, then China can persecute Falun Gong practitioners with impunity.

More at J-Wire

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