China has waged a relentless global propaganda campaign against Falun Gong practitioners, reports Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas.
The pursuit of human rights in China, as in any country, has to be approached strategically. What is the most effective way way of combating human rights violations in China?
The best strategy is the most direct: combating human rights violations frontally, centrally rather than peripherally. The Communist Party of China rules China through repression, having killed since its inception tens of millions to achieve and maintain power – more than Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union combined. Repression of human rights in China takes many forms with many victims.
The Communist Party of China persecutes anyone whose beliefs differ from those of the Communists or anyone who tells the world about Chinese human rights violations. Its victims include Falun Gong practitioners, democracy activists, ethnic minorities and global religions – Tibetan Buddhists, Moslem Uighurs and Christians, human rights defenders, journalists, and internet-bloggers.
Yet, it persecutes the Falun Gong more and worse than any other group. It feels the Falun Gong poses a true threat because it offers a viable alternative to the ideological pre-eminence of the Communist Party in China. The Chinese people turned to Falun Gong beliefs in their millions. Before their repression, followers of Falun Gong were more numerous than any other group, even the Communist Party itself.
Falun Gong have the dubious honour of leading by far the parade of human rights victims in China. They represent two-thirds of the torture victims, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. The next largest victim group, the Uighurs, stands at 11 per cent. All others are single digits.
Falun Gong practitioners and prisoners sentenced to death are the sole victims of organ-harvesting, the killing of innocents for their organs for transplant surgery. People can quickly become jaded about almost anything, including the traditional forms of human rights violations. In contrast, when people hear about killing innocents for their organs, they sit up and take notice.
Chinese repression of the Falun Gong is brutal, horrifying, gross, systematic and widespread. It is the stuff of newspaper stories and human rights reports. It is plain and plainly awful.
China, though, is unique amongst the tyrannies of the world. It is a global power which carries out its campaign of repression worldwide. Other tyrannies are hermit kingdoms, cut off from the rest of the world, ignoring criticism abroad while stifling it at home. Their chosen targets, as long as they flee, are mostly left alone. Only China has the political muscle and economic weight to conduct a global propaganda campaign against its chosen victims who are primarily, but not only, the Falun Gong.
Outside of China, government agents do not have the power to kill, detain and torture. But they do what they can consistent with foreign law, and even violating it in ways that diplomatic immunity allows them to do.
This world has not seen the likes of the Chinese Government hatred of the Falun Gong since Nazi Germany’s hatred of the Jews. Nazi Germany was not content to victimise its Jews in Germany. Anti-Semitism was a foreign policy, indeed the primary foreign policy goal, of Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany was intent on persecuting and killing Jews everywhere in the planet that Jews could be found.
This global attack on the Falun Gong takes a myriad of forms. First and foremost is incitement to hatred. Beijing conducts a propaganda campaign against the Falun Gong wherever its agents are, despite the Falun Gong being a group of innocents, a non-political non-violent community. Chinese propaganda takes advantage of whatever media outlets are available.
The Communist Party of China, to justify its brutal hold on power, does what communist parties have done everywhere – it admits nothing and denies everything. It manufactures phoney charges, concocts facts and invents quotes.
Indifference is a problem with all human rights violations; but it is more acute for human rights violations in China. It is a good deal easier to mobilise concern about human rights violations in places other than China.
David Kilgour and I, in working on our report on organ-harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China, have faced two formidable tasks. One was determining whether or not the allegations of organ-harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China were true. The second, once we determined that they were true, was mobilising concern about this foul practice. As difficult as writing our report was, shaking the global community out of its indifference towards these human rights violations has been more difficult still.
One reason may be the very strangeness of the name Falun Gong. It is a lot easier to relate to victims who have universal labels – journalists, human rights defenders, democracy activists – than to a group with a name which means nothing to most ears.
Another reason is the economic clout of China. Some people regrettably measure the strength of their human rights commitment by its impact on their pocket-book. China’s economic weight by far surpasses that of other major human rights violators.
But the most likely explanation of all is the global campaign of China against the Falun Gong, the harassment, the bullying, the spying, the disinformation, pervasiveness and the persistence of Beijing’s anti-Falun Gong propaganda. The incitement to hatred which generates the persecution against the Falun Gong within China has become a primary message that embassies of China bring to the rest of the world.
The Chinese global disinformation campaign against the Falun Gong has two basic prongs. One is spreading Beijing’s own propaganda. The other is blocking, in every way they can, the flow of any contrary information.
When it comes to propaganda against the Falun Gong, China does not make an effort to be accurate. The lies are shameless, blatant, patent, shameless, unabashed.
The global Chinese campaign that David Kilgour and I have seen is unlike anything we see from Zimbabwe or North Korea or any of the other major human rights violators. As a courtroom lawyer, I am used to having people disagree with me. But I have never seen anything like the disagreement with our report from the Government of China. Beijing’s disagreement studiously avoids the plausible and gravitates towards the outrageous.
Here is just one example, which gives a flavour of what Beijing is doing.
I went to Israel to speak at a symposium on organ transplants on May 30, 2007, at Beilinson hospital near Tel Aviv. The Chinese Embassy to Israel circulated a statement at the symposium that the report that 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. Our study has been corroborated by independent disinterested researchers. Admittedly, in the first version of our report, because of our limited knowledge of Chinese geography, we mistakenly placed a couple of Chinese cities in the wrong provinces. Other than that, no one has found even one element of our report incorrect or even questionable.
The report is on the internet and is word-searchable. Anyone who searches it can see that the words “probably”, “possibly” and “maybe” and the phrase “it is said” are not used in our report, not even once. But people do not bother to search.
Some people, for reasons of political or diplomatic or economic convenience, will swallow anything said by the Communist Party of China, true or not. For these fellow-travellers, what is relevant is only that it is said by the Communist Party of China.
However, we have met others for whom the truth matters, who are not associated in any way with the Communist Party of China, but yet who assert, without having read our report, that it is based on rumour. The only explanation is that these dupes have heard or read Chinese Communist propaganda about our report, that they have been misled by the big lie.
When Beijing puts words in quotation marks and asserts that they come from our report, there is a tendency to assume that these quotes are real. People cannot believe that someone could have the nerve to distort the truth so grossly.
The struggle against human rights violations needs solidarity to succeed. Chinese government efforts abroad against the Falun Gong eat away at that solidarity.
This perpetual Chinese global campaign of incitement turns some against the Falun Gong. For many others, the result is immobilisation. People do not have the time or the energy to pierce through the Chinese veil. They throw up their hands and walk away, leaving the Falun Gong to their fate. The end result is indifference.
How do we combat the indifference of those who do not know? By making every effort to get out the truth about what is happening there and not taking on faith anything coming from Beijing about their victims, not to repeat anything they say against their victims unless it is verified. To do anything less means contributing to Chinese persecution.
– David Matas is an international human rights lawyer in Winnipeg, Canada. He is the co-author with David Kilgour of the report, Bloody Harvest: Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China (2007). He delivered a speech, from which the above extracts have been taken, at the recent conference in Taiwan on Human Rights in China and the 2008 Olympics.