Human Rights Lawyer Highlights What Makes CCP’s Persecution of Falun Gong Particularly Heinous

By Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
July 19, 2023Updated: July 19, 2023

There are several elements that should be kept in mind about the atrocious nature of the persecution of Falun Gong in China by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), says human rights lawyer David Matas.

“First we should remember that the repression was based on the popularity of Falun Gong,” Mr. Matas said at an event to mark the 24th anniversary of the regime’s persecution of the practice. The event was held outside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg on July 8.

Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is a meditation and spiritual discipline rooted in Buddhist traditions. After being introduced to the public in China in 1992, it quickly gained widespread popularity due to its health benefits. By 1999, the Chinese regime estimated there were 70 million adherents—surpassing the 60 million membership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the time.

Then-CCP leader Jiang Zemin perceived that popularity as a threat to communist rule and on July 20 1999, officially launched a violent persecution campaign against Falun Gong.

“Though the spiritual beliefs of Falun Gong are not political, the Party took fright at the size of the movement,” Mr. Matas said.

The CCP could not justify the repression on the basis of Falun Gong’s popularity, however, he said. It needed a reason, and this is the second point to remember, that the decision to persecute Falun Gong led to the demonization of the practice.

Epoch Times Photo
Canadian international human rights lawyer David Matas testifies at a U.S. Congressional hearing on organ harvesting, in a file photo. (Lisa Fan/The Epoch Times)

While Falun Gong and its founder, Li Hongzhi, were highly praised by Chinese authorities and received many awards after the practice’s introduction in China, the CCP flipped that narrative when Mr. Jiang ordered the persecution, Mr. Matas said. Through fabricated reports, defamation, and propaganda, the Party claimed that Falun Gong was harmful to adherents’ health and well-being.

The centrepiece of this propaganda, Mr. Matas noted, was a staged self-immolation. He referred to a documentary titled “False Fire” that details a notorious incident in which five people whom the CCP claimed were Falun Gong adherents set themselves on fire in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Jan. 23, 2001. Now widely regarded as being staged, the incident was propagated by Chinese state media and used to justify the persecution, despite the fact that Falun Gong’s moral teachings prohibit killing and suicide.

Forced Organ Harvesting

Mr. Matas, along with the late former MP and cabinet minister David Kilgour, was the first to draw the links between the CCP’s persecution of Falun Gong and China’s burgeoning organ transplant industry. In 2006, they released a report concluding that the CCP had been conducting “large-scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners.” The report was later published into a book titled “Bloody Harvest.”

“The demonization of Falun Gong was, in part, responsible for the mass killing of Falun Gong for their organs,” Mr. Matas said, noting this as the third element to remember on July 20.

He said one of the reasons Falun Gong was targeted for organ harvesting was the “extreme vilification” that led to adherents being depersonalized. “Prison guards, health officials, and health professionals felt that they could do what they wanted with practitioners, that practitioners were not really human.”

Mr. Matas’s fourth key point is that “new technologies lead to new forms of evil.” He said the developers of organ transplantation “never, I am confident, imagined that it would be used to kill prisoners of conscience.”

This resulted in the international community initially being left undefended against this new form of harm, he said.

The lack of prevention and remedy, against a backdrop of huge profits being made in China’s organ transplantation industry, contributed to an influx of foreign patients travelling to the country for transplants, according to research by Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour and studies by others investigating the issue.

Epoch Times Photo
International human rights lawyer David Matas, who co-authored the book “Bloody Harvest: Organ Harvesting from Falun Gong Practitioners in China,” with David Kilgour. (Todd Liu/The Epoch Times)

‘Hard to Believe’

Mr. Matas said the fifth key matter to remember is that the world met evidence of organ transplant abuse with disbelief, despite data showing “the abuse has existed without a reasonable doubt since the early 2000s and continues to this day.”

He pointed to a documentary titled “Hard to Believe” that examines the disbelief many experience.

One reason is that the abuse is new and people have “no experience and no anticipation.”

Another reason is the contrast between the good of organ transplantation and the harm of mass killing. “Even when faced with unanswerable evidence, many could not conceive how it was possible for the good of organ transplantation and the mass killing of prisoners of conscience for their organs to come together.”

The sixth point to keep in mind is that “human rights violations, if not combatted, will grow,” like “a spreading virus,” contaminating one population after another, said Mr. Matas.

He noted that the mass killing of prisoners for their organs in China began with prisoners sentenced to death, then “took off with the industrialized killing of Falun Gong. It has since spread to Uyghurs.”

‘Resilience of the Human Spirit’

Despite the persistence of these atrocities, Mr. Matas said he remains confident in the “resilience of the human spirit,” the seventh point he emphasized.

“The practice of Falun Gong blends the Chinese exercise and spiritual traditions. It resonated with the Chinese population, but has a global appeal. Its perseverance in the face of brutal persecution has highlighted the perversity and inhumanity of Chinese Communism, but also the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity,” he said.

The next important point to remember on July 20 is that new mechanisms for prevention and remedy are catching up to combat the new abuses committed by the CCP.

A growing number of countries are introducing laws that ban organ tourism, organ trafficking, and transplants using organs acquired without consent. In December 2022, Canada passed Bill S-223 in the House of Commons, making it a criminal offence for Canadians citizens and permanent residents to go abroad to receive an organ taken from someone who didn’t give informed consent.

Mr. Matas said some 20 states now have extra-territorial legislation prohibiting their citizens from being complicit in transplant abuse abroad. The Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs requires member states to prohibit this complicity.

The International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation has also stated it won’t accept data related to transplantation or the use of tissue from human donors in China.

‘Nothing Can Stop the Truth’

Apart from emerging legal tools and increased public awareness, Mr. Matas also expressed faith in the power of truth, which he said will ultimately bring about the end of the abuse against Falun Gong in China.

On July 20, also remember that “nothing can stop the truth from getting out,” he said, noting that although the CCP continues to cover up its abuse, “irrefutable” evidence proves its misdeeds.

Epoch Times Photo
Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners take part in a rally and a parade through downtown Toronto on July 15, 2023, to call on the Chinese regime to stop its persecution of Falun Gong. (Evan Ning/The Epoch Times)

Calls have been mounting in different countries for stronger actions, such as Canada’s passing of the Magnitsky Act in 2017, giving Ottawa the ability to sanction foreign individuals responsible for gross human rights violations, such as barring them from entering the country.

Since then, the Falun Dafa Association of Canada has requested a number of times that Magnitsky sanctions be imposed on Chinese officials with key roles in the persecution, including former CCP leader Jiang Zemin, transplant surgeon Zheng Shusen, transplant leader Huang Jiefu, and senior Party leaders Luo Gan, Bo Xilai, and Zhou Yongkang.

In light of this effort, Mr. Matas said that on July 20, the world needs to remember both the victims and the perpetrators in this tragedy.

“Jiang Zemin died in November 2022. But neither he nor any of the other perpetrators of the victimization of the Falun Gong will be forgotten,” Mr. Matas said.

“Long after Chinese Communist rule over China has disintegrated, Jiang Zemin and his accomplices will be remembered for what they did to practitioners of Falun Gong. When everything else about Communist China is forgotten, the killing of Falun Gong for their organs will be remembered, because Falun Gong practitioners will still be here, and they will not forget.”