Zhou Yongkang Got Sentenced to Life in Prison, but Not for His Real Crimes

Zhou Yongkang Got Sentenced to Life in Prison, but Not for His Real Crimes
Zhou Yongkang, formerly the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of security, sits in a courtroom at the First Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin in Tianjin, China, on June 11, 2015. Zhou was sentenced to life in prison. (CCTV via AP)

The end has come for the case of Zhou Yongkang, the man who once wielded immense power in the Chinese Communist Party through his post as security chief. Now, after a long political battle, he has been sentenced to life in prison.

This development further cements the control of current regime leader Xi Jinping and is another defeat for the Communist Party faction created by former dictator Jiang Zemin.

Zhou has a litany of crimes to his name—running the gauntlet from sexual debauchery to abuse of power to disclosure of state secrets, but the most grievous among them have been completely omitted in the charges announced by the Tianjin court handing down his verdict.

One of these crimes—given that it took place under his watch, almost certainly with his connivance, and possibly at his order—is that of forced organ harvesting from living prisoners of conscience, mostly taken from practitioners of Falun Gong, a popular Chinese spiritual practice that has faced deadly persecution by the Communist party since 1999.

Bao Tong was policy secretary for Zhao Ziyang, the reformist Chinese leader who was ousted in 1989 following his expressions of support for the student protesters at Tiananmen. In an interview with Epoch Times, Bao said that he wished to see the Chinese government bring the issue of forced organ harvesting into the public realm.

The view is one shared not just by practitioners of Falun Gong, or by human rights activists, but possibly even those in the Party, according to hints over the last few months.

Partners in Persecution

Zhou Yongkang, 72, had been a staunch ally of ex-Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin, who, in addition to spending over a decade in office, from 1989 to 2002, sank his grip deep into the power structure of the nation and Party by filling key posts with cadres loyal to him. Being one of Jiang’s most prominent officers earned Zhou the director’s office of the Communist Party’s Political and Legislative Affairs Commission (PLAC), a wide-reaching agency that controls nearly all of the regime’s fearsome security forces.

But it was the persecution of Falun Gong, the meditative discipline with roots in China’s most ancient faiths, that really defined Jiang’s unsavory political legacy, and which catapulted Zhou and other Jiang stalwarts into their seats of power.    

According to websites run by overseas Falun Gong practitioners that document the persecution, Chinese regime authorities are confirmed to have murdered several thousand practitioners through torture and other means of abuse, though the true scale of the campaign’s lethality is certain to be much greater, given the difficulty of gathering reliable information from within China.

Investigative research conducted by American journalist Ethan Gutmann into allegations that detained Falun Gong were being harvested for their vital organs, over 60,000 people are estimated to have been murdered through this gruesome yet profitable practice.

Zhou, in supporting his patron Jiang, carried out the persecution of Falun Gong enthusiastically. He is likely to have had a major role in facilitating forced organ harvesting. In 2007 Zhou took over as PLAC chief from its former director, Luo Gan, another Jiang ally who had masterminded much of the persecution.  

In the latter half of the 2000s, Zhou colluded with Bo Xilai, an up-and-coming communist official and member of the Politburo—the Party’s top decision-making body—to maintain the primacy of the Jiang faction into the next decade. Their endgame was a coup against Xi Jinping, a relatively unknown politician who had been selected to take over after general secretary Hu Jintao following the 18th Party Congress in 2012, according to insider sources at the time, whose information has since been vindicated by the Party’s own pronouncements that they engaged in cliquism, collusion, and anti-Party activities.

Bo Xilai, also known for his eager role in the anti-Falun Gong campaign, was brought to ruin when his own charge, Wang Lijun, defected to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February 2012. The Americans turned Wang over to the Chinese central authorities, who appeared then to be alert to Bo and Zhou’s machinations. Not long afterward, Bo was apprehended, stripped of his Party membership, and, in a trial held in 2013, sentenced to life in prison.

The next year, starting by attacking Zhou’s power base in the state-run petroleum sector, Xi Jinping began a full-scale campaign against corruption in the Party, government, military, and industry. First Zhou’s oil allies, then Jiang’s handpicked clients in the military and telecom industry began to fall. Finally, in mid-2014, Zhou himself was sacked. The Jiang group’s days were numbered.

Crimes the Party Cannot Bring to Light

To this day, even after Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has left the Jiang faction a shadow of its former self, the Communist Party has not budged on its position vis-a-vis Falun Gong and continues to slander it.

Zhou and other Jiang associates, who committed the worst of offenses against Falun Gong, may have been disciplined, but behind the scenes, innocent people continue to be detained, beaten, orphaned, and killed for their faith in the peaceful, apolitical meditative practice.

The general view among observers of the matter is that Jiang Zemin’s motivation in persecuting Falun Gong was part political maneuvering meant to make use of a convenient internal enemy, part jealousy over Falun Gong’s sudden popularity, and part embarrassment at the failure to ensure loyalty—even in its own ranks, as many high-level Communist officials and their families were practicing Falun Gong—to the Communist Party’s atheist ideology.

Neither Jiang Zemin nor his eldest son Jiang Mianheng have yet been directly touched by Xi’s purges, but some say that day may come soon.

Xia Xiaoqiang, an Epoch Times political columnist based in Europe, argues that Zhou Yongkang’s crimes, as extensions of Jiang’s, could only be exposed under the circumstance that Xi goes after Jiang himself.

There is some indication that this may come to pass: though neither the crime of organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been acknowledged, nor the Party’s anti-Falun Gong rhetoric evidenced any changes, subtle hints seem to indicate Xi’s future steps.

Be it the casual remark made by China’s vice-health minister Huang Jiefu referencing Zhou Yongkang’s involvement in the organ transplant business, or the conspicuous yet unclarified details in state-run media reports hinting at the existence of Zhou and Bo’s abortive coup (and the Party’s knowledge of it), analysis of recent events, Xia says, point to Xi Jinping’s eventual plans to take down Jiang Zemin and his remaining cohorts, pinning the blame for the persecution of Falun Gong and forced organ harvesting on them personally.

In this way, the responsible individuals would be punished while the Party is absolved of wrongdoing.

But having set the Communist Party’s ideology and authoritarian nature as a Leninist power bloc against the traditional beliefs and values of Falun Gong, the persecution has escaped whatever personal ambitions Jiang Zemin originally harbored. Suddenly ceasing the campaign and declaring it the mistake of a former leader may stretch even the Chinese Communist Party’s remaining legitimacy—scarce as it already is.

Frank Fang contributed to this report