Beijing’s coverup of the coronavirus outbreak, its heavy-handed tactics in Hong Kong, and what some are calling a genocide of the Uyghurs have forced many people to awaken to the chilling realities of the Chinese Communist Party.
But practitioners of Falun Gong have faced this every day, since July 20, 1999, when the Chinese regime banned Falun Gong and sought to “eradicate” the popular spiritual practice.
For the past 21 years, practitioners have been demonized, tortured, and even had their organs forcibly extracted.
In this episode, we sit down with Crystal Chen, a Falun Gong practitioner and persecution survivor, and Levi Browde, the executive director of the Falun Dafa Information Center. Their stories and insights offer a window into the threat China’s ruling regime poses to not just Hong Kongers and the Chinese people, but also to the rest of the world.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Crystal, tell me about your life before July 20th of 1999.
Crystal Chen: Before 1999, my life was very good. I worked as an assistant to the executive in the largest textile import and export corporation in Guangzhou, and I started to learn Falun Dafa with my mom in 1997. Although at that time, my mom suffered a very serious stroke, was paralyzed, and also had breast cancer, miraculously, she recovered after just a few months of taking up the Falun Gong practice. So we practiced Falun Dafa and studied the Fa [Dharma or teachings], and at that time, Falun Gong was very popular in the city. Besides all the meditation sites in the park, there were also some people in my workplace [who] practiced Falun Gong. Even during lunch break, we’d have a Falun Gong meditation session at the workplace.
Mr. Jekielek: So in your city at the time, how did people practice?
Ms. Chen: Every morning, they went to the park, and even in the evening after dinner, we also had a Falun Gong free teaching instruction session in almost all the parks. So life was very good at that time. So just imagine people following the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance, doing peaceful exercises in the park, and teaching other people. And some people even told us that they [were] just walking on the street, and suddenly they hear a very beautiful song, and they follow the song and then find the practice site, “Oh, that is Falun Gong.”
Mr. Browde: Falun Gong is a Buddhist-based spiritual practice that’s centered on Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. Falun Gong was first introduced in 1992, and by 1999, there were 100 million people practicing. That’s a lot of people, even in a country as populous as China—that’s 1 out of every 13 people. And it was being practiced in every province, from people of all walks of life, high ranking government officials, homemakers, farmers—you name it.
Mr. Jekielek: So your mother discovered this practice. She had some amazing healing effects from doing it. Is that how you got interested?
Ms. Chen: So my mom used to be a soprano, a singer. So suddenly, her life was brought from a star on the stage to nothing. She couldn’t even move her body, so it’s very sad. But I remember, while she was in the hospital, in the cancer hospital, one day she decided to go out to do some qigong. At that time, I knew nothing about qigong, because I was born and raised in Communist China. I was brainwashed that all the qigong practices or religions are superstitious, that [spiritual teachings] are not good, so I doubted it.
But my mom was very, very determined, and she said that … someone just sent her a book called “Zhuan Falun,” which is the main book of Falun Gong, and she thought that it was very good, and she decided to go out for a try. And she told me, “You didn’t know how miserable I was in the hospital and knowing that it might not be cured.” So I was very skeptical, but I love my mom. I decided to go with her and to escort her, accompany her, to see whether this Falun Gong will work for her. Sure enough, it was very good. So my mom recovered miraculously after just a few months of taking up this practice. And I started to think, “What is this? This is so new to me,” and I started to also read the book.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s move to July 20th now, of 1999. So you’ve been practicing for a few years. What were you doing around that time?
Ms. Chen: I remember on July 19, 1999, I learned that several local Falun Gong [practitioners] were being harassed by the government and also arrested. So I decided to join a group of Falun Gong practitioners to appeal at the city and the provincial petition bureau for their release. But we were told that the Falun Gong issue has to be handled by the central government. That is what we were told, so we decided to go to Beijing, the central government, to appeal, and by chance, we got the train ticket for the next day. So I boarded the train on July 20th, and then it took us two days to arrive in Beijing, on July 22nd.
We didn’t hear anything about the full ban of Falun Gong, because we were in transit. By the time that we went to appeal at the central petition bureau, that was July 23rd. We didn’t really know where exactly the petition bureau was, but we knew that it’s around the Tiananmen Square area. So when we passed by Tiananmen Square, we saw a group of Falun Gong practitioners meditating in the square, and we wanted to join that group of practitioners.
And suddenly, all the plainclothes police and vans just rushed to that group, including me, and I was then arrested and sent to Fengtai sports stadium in the Beijing suburb. That was a dramatic scene. I never experienced anything like that. Tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners from all over the country were sent to that sports stadium by bus, and we were just forced by the armed police to line up, and we were not allowed to make any noise while the loudspeaker at the sports stadium repeated the news of the full ban of Falun Gong in a loop. I just felt like I was in a gruesome movie.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s an incredible story. And from what I know, I’m not sure if that counts exactly as an arrest, but I know you actually were arrested six times over the coming years.
Ms. Chen: Yes. That was the first time, my first experience, being arrested just for attempting to appeal to stop the persecution of Falun Gong and expressing how beneficial Falun Gong is for me and my mom.
Mr. Jekielek: I remember that back in 2000, … Jiang Zemin, the dictator at the time, said: “We’re going to eradicate this group.” That word, “eradicate,” now, what did that actually mean? It wasn’t like “we were going to kill all these people,” right, necessarily. But what did that mean, how did this eradication proceed, and is it still happening now?
Mr. Browde: That’s a very good question, and it goes to the heart of [it]. What’s behind this campaign? What does it really consist of? I’ve seen one scholar call it a “cold genocide.” And really what it means is: we’re going to take these hundred million people, and instead of what they do to Jews in World War II and just putting them in gas chambers and killing them physically, we’re going to transform their hearts and minds, usually through significant torture and high-power brainwashing techniques.
But the goal is to actually change what that person thinks, actually change who they are, from someone who is striving to align themselves with Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance to someone who’s completely obedient to the state.
I think one of the most compelling stories about this, individual stories, was actually in a Washington Post article. They’ve done this story back I think in 2001 [or] 2002, where they found someone who had gone through this process. So this Falun Gong practitioner was taken into custody. Not only was he tortured and underwent these horrific psychological techniques, but once they had broken him, that wasn’t good enough. He now had to go to study sessions and start to show that he’s taking the communist ideology into his heart. That wasn’t good enough. He now had to stand up in front of a camera, and they film him while he professes his allegiance to the party and how great the party was.
He came out of this process, and one of the things that struck me at the end is he said, “What I’ve learned is we”—human beings, he’s talking about—”are the worst animals on earth.” And his case was, I think, a very vivid example of what Jiang Zemin meant by “eradicate”. He is going to completely transform who they are into obedient followers of the communist state or they’re going to die in the process.
Ms. Chen: I was sentenced to forced labor camp without trial, and I was sent to a detention center, brainwashing center, all sorts of properties that the Chinese Communist regime [uses to] persecute Dafa practitioners. And also I experienced different types of torture, of course not only physical, also mental.
I remember my first experience being physically tortured was in a detention center in my city, Guangzhou city, the Tianhe Detention Center. I was forced to have a high-density salt torture, which seems very weird, right? But that torture actually is that I was forced to have this high-density saltwater.
Five big, large male detainees put me down on the floor. They cut this water bottle in half as a funnel, and they cover my eyes with a very dirty towel used to wipe the floor. And then they shove this one-pound bag of salt with just a little bit of water in it and shove this opening of the bottle, trying to pry my mouth open. And then I felt … the salt … all over my nose, my eyes, and I feel really, really hot pain. It’s very painful. And at the same time, they used a stick to scratch my feet so that I will gasp and so all this salt will [be] put into my throat, my stomach. So it’s really, really painful. So I couldn’t breathe, I struggled to fight against this pain, but at the same time, I felt that I am going to die.
Mr. Jekielek: So they’re basically force-feeding you saltwater, really super high—
Ms. Chen: High-density salt. The result: It was very painful. I couldn’t eat after this torture. I couldn’t eat nor excrete, and I vomited blood and salt for the next few days, so it’s very dangerous. It could kill people. And that’s why when we suffered this, we already protested to the prison guards that if [they] continue doing this, [they’re] going to kill people. They stopped.
It’s just because I remember at the moment that I thought I was going to die, I prayed for divine help for me to endure. But at the same time, I … said to myself that I will never give up. I will never give up, but I’m praying for divine help for me to endure. Almost immediately at that moment, the chief guard ordered them to stop. It is amazing. And also at the same time, one of the five big guys holding me down fell over. And because of that, they stopped.
Mr. Jekielek: Why is it so important for you to keep practicing?
Ms. Chen: As I mentioned, … before I practiced Dafa, I was completely an atheist. I didn’t believe there is a higher being existing, and I didn’t even know that there is a way for a human being to become awakened through spiritual discipline. But ever since I practiced Falun Gong, I feel like I got what I want. Because even though before practice, I lead a pretty good life—well educated, good family, promising career in a big company—but I always asked myself [questions]: Where am I from? What am I doing in my life? Is that all my life is all about? Just get educated, marry, have a good family and have good work—that’s it? And where are we going if I die? This is the question deep in my heart, but Falun Gong definitely gave me the answer and that was what I was seeking in my life.
Mr. Jekielek: What people typically associate with Falun Gong is the organ harvesting issue. There was this China Tribunal this year that followed all sorts of attempts to look at this issue, gather evidence and so forth, again over more than a decade. So people hear about this organ harvesting issue. Can you briefly tell me about the connection to Falun Gong?
Mr. Browde: Sure. Organ harvesting. We became aware of it, it came on our radar, [in the] mid-2000s. And just so everyone knows, the practice of forced organ harvesting is essentially taking prisoners of conscience, killing them, extracting their organs and using that in a transplantation operation, and it was fueling a billion-dollar business in China.
So it first came on the radar for us when a doctor and a former wife of a doctor came to us, and said, “Look, this is happening.” And very quickly, we started looking into that and found some very disturbing evidence. In particular, there’s some phone calls that undercover investigators did where they actually called these different hospitals and we have recorded doctors admitting [that] yes, you can get organs in just a few days time or week, and yes, they’re coming from Falun Gong people.
And after that, a number of journalists and some human rights lawyers logged into the story, and start doing more investigation, and realize that in China, in these various hospitals, you can get organs in a matter of days or weeks, where in most countries, it’s months or years because if you think about it, you have to wait till somebody just happens to die who just happens to be a match with you has an organ. But in China, they were saying days and weeks for wait times. That could only happen … if there’s a pool of people that they’ve already tested and they can kill to do organ transplantation.
So this is obviously a horrific human rights abuse. And we also noticed a correlation. The number of transplants was very low in China, and it took off right at the time that hundreds and thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were being brought and held in labor camps and other detention facilities. So the correlation was direct.
Ms. Chen: I remember when I was in a forced labor camp, I was systematically tortured, but at the same time, only Falun Gong practitioners in the labor camps or in detention centers got tested and physical exams. That didn’t make any sense to me at that moment because that cannot be motivated by the concern over the health of Falun Gong practitioners, because we are systematically tortured. And I personally got tested several times, including two blood tests.
So later on, when I was released and I heard about the organ harvesting, [I understood why]. That is horrible. I couldn’t even imagine that would happen, but that answers the question of why we got tested and examined in the labor camps and the detention centers. They targeted innocent and healthy Falun Gong practitioners.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s unbelievable. I think David Matas, one of the early investigators who was actually you’d call him a Nazi-hunter—hunting down the last Nazi war criminals in Canada— called it [“a new form of evil yet to be seen on this planet.”] … And I actually did a little bit of the early reporting on this back in the day as well. So it’s still happening?
Mr. Browde: Very much so. In fact, the China Tribunal that you had mentioned came out with their final judgement just a few months ago, and not only did they conclude yes, this is happening on a significant scale, it’s [also] ongoing today. And I think what’s interesting is that if you noticed in the news a couple months ago, in Wuhan, they made a lot of fanfare about a double lung transplant. And what’s very peculiar about that is it showed all the same red flags that we’ve had with forced organ harvesting all along. Where did they get these lungs from so quickly and get them to Wuhan? The whole thing is very clear, both from the evidence and the tribunal, that this is something that’s still going on today.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s an interesting case, because obviously that was some kind of a propaganda push by the regime, “This lung transplant, look what we can do,” this kind of thing. And this propaganda, of course, fits into this whole Falun Gong story extensively. Before I go there, one of the things that I remember is … the reason why people would call and ask if it’s Falun Gong, … is because Falun Gong [practitioners] were known to be healthy, and I think this is a kind of really perverse, twisted aspect of the organ harvesting story.
Mr. Browde: That is the sad irony. One of the tragic parts of this is that Falun Gong brought tremendous health benefits to the people of China, and then the CCP seized on that and said, “We’re going to take these people, because they’re so healthy. We’re going to make them the primary victim group, the primary source of organs, keep them in detention and kill them every time we want to do an organ transplant operation.”
Mr. Jekielek: With a marginalized group, there’s a kind of ease of using people in a dictatorship this way, that I think maybe even David Matas was also the one who identified this issue. Can you speak to that a bit?
Mr. Browde: I think that’s a great point, because it touched on two things I think. [One] is how did Falun Gong become a marginalized group? Because again, if you go back to the 1990s, Falun Gong was everywhere. It’s in every park. … Again, … it was a Chinese thing. After decades of living under communist rule, along comes Falun Gong, that sort of heartland China. It’s sort of like apple pie, church on Sunday, and baseball all wrapped into one, the analogy to America. It was very Chinese, and it was something that people were proud about.
So how do you take an enormous population within China that is very much part of the mainstream and make them marginalized? That was the first question, and that has been over the course of several years a targeted and very horrific campaign of propaganda to turn people’s minds from admiring Falun Gong to despising it. And once you have people thinking that way, [with] this sort of natural distance, it now becomes much more easy for an institution like the medical institution to take over and do horrific things to these people.
And quite honestly, it’s a pattern we’ve seen in genocidal activity throughout human history. That is a vital component, to marginalize and dehumanize. Now, once that can be achieved, the rank and file and various institutions can be unleashed to do horrible things and that’s really what we’ve seen with organ harvesting.
Mr. Jekielek: How is it that this propaganda works? I just watched this film, “Ask No Questions,” and you actually appeared in it, and I wasn’t expecting that. It’s just something that’s come up recently. I tend to watch films that have to do with China’s human rights issues, and it talks about the self-immolation event which is, I think, a central piece of propaganda in all of this. Can you speak to that?
Mr. Browde: Absolutely. That was the turning point because back in 1999, the head of the Communist Party at that time, Jiang Zemin, was really the one who wanted to persecute Falun Gong. No one else did, including other members of the Politburo, the highest body of governance in the country.
And really, he looked at Falun Gong, and for three reasons, he wanted to do this. One, because it was so popular. 100 million people is a lot of people outside of direct CCP control. Two, was ideology. The Communist Party is sort of an atheist organization, quite literally, and along comes a faith-based group that’s very rooted in traditional Chinese culture. So there was an ideological threat there to Jiang Zemin.
But I think the real reason, the dominant reason, and perhaps the most tragic part of this was that Jiang Zemin was the first Chinese Communist Party leader who hadn’t really participated in the revolution and didn’t have any credibility. Even among his peers, he was desperate to build up his legacy. And right as he’s trying to do that, along comes Falun Gong, takes the country by storm, everybody’s talking about how great it is and essentially steals his thunder. So he’s the one who said, “We have to stamp this out. We have to take Falun Gong out.” There was a bit of a power struggle in the summer of 1999, but he prevailed.
And once that started, the persecution was launched. However, as we’ve been discussing, … again, Falun Gong … to Chinese people, it’s not foreign. They know this. They know people. There’re people [practicing] in their family. So how do you get people to turn around? A lot of provinces, a lot of areas, weren’t taking part in this persecution initially, especially further out in the provinces, and Jiang Zemin actually had to take a tour around the country, especially the southern part of the country, to drum up support and to threaten people and coerce them to do this persecution. And that was having some effect.
But it wasn’t till the self-immolation that things really turned around. So in January 2001, five people set themselves on fire, allegedly, in Tiananmen Square. The police, for some crazy reason, were there to film it. They were taking pictures, they got the whole thing on camera, and that was used in a propaganda blitz to show the Chinese people just how “evil” Falun Gong was. “Look, people are burning themselves. Isn’t this terrible?”
And the images were so horrific, the narrative so sort of twisted, that really turned the tide inside China, in terms of people thinking, “Oh, Falun Gong is great. … It’s the best of our Chinese culture,” to “Oh, this is bad.” Or at least if they weren’t even convinced with the propaganda which was running 24/7—it was everywhere—they were at least so scared of the issue. They just didn’t want to deal with it. So the self-immolation was the turning point to get the rank and file around the country to really take persecuting Falun Gong seriously.
Mr. Jekielek: In the film, they interview one of the CNN correspondents who … actually happened to be on the scene. And … there’s all sorts of these bizarre inconsistencies. The media say that CNN was somehow provided the footage. CNN said, “No, there’s no way. We actually had to hide it; pretend it didn’t exist.” Anyway, the story goes on and there’s a lot of evidence that this was actually manufactured even though the actual truth of it probably will never be known, because it was all controlled by the regime.
Mr. Browde: That’s right. And the one reporter that was brave enough to look into this, Philip Pan with the Washington Post, went to the hometown of two of the alleged self-immolators and found that no one had ever seen these two people practice. And there was all kinds of anomalies in terms of what they were saying on the square, how they were sitting—none of it looked like Falun Gong.
The police were behaving in a very strange manner, waiting until they said stuff so that they could get it on camera and use it for propaganda purposes, before they put the blanket on them or dealt with them, which is completely different from how they deal with Falun Gong people on Tiananmen Square. If you see any of the footage, the minute someone steps on the square and says something positive about Falun Gong, they’re racing out, they tackle them, they take them to the ground, and they get them into the van, trying to make sure they don’t say anything—this was the exact opposite.
Several organizations have looked at this and said this was clearly staged, and a lot of these anomalies make that very clear. All the sort of movie techniques they use, but also the fact that these reports came out so quick in a matter of hours. In some cases, I think some of the reports came out before the victims, so-called victims, were even brought to the hospital. Some of the stuff was very quick, and it was a propaganda blitz. Literally 24/7 it was running for quite some time. So it is well-understood that this was staged, but the damage was still done, because inside China, there is only one media, and that’s the state-run media, and it had an effect.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me briefly, what ended up happening to your mother and your family?
Ms. Chen: I lost my mom because of the persecution of Falun Gong. I was sent to the same detention center and the same labor camp with my mom, but we were separated and never had a chance to see each other for almost three years. But later, … some of the fellow practitioners who spent some time with my mom in the prison or in the labor camp told me that my mom also suffered brutal persecution.
One of the persecution [techniques] to my mom is electric baton shocks. They shocked my mom for almost two hours without a break, and also they shocked all the very sensitive parts of her body, like the underarm and the inner side of her thigh, and also the ear, the neck. My mom was covered with all these black bruises and burns. You can imagine: two hours of electric baton shocks, and they can even smell the skin burned off my mom.
And then my mom was tortured in the detention center, in the labor camp, and also later sent to a brainwashing center. That is a facility that specializes in persecuting Falun Gong practitioners without trial, without any legal protection. It’s a black jail. And then after all these years of persecution, my mom died in August 2006 after her release from … custody.
The persecution of Falun Gong, to me, is not only persecution of the Falun Gong group itself. It is persecution of humanity and spirituality as a whole. People think … , “Oh, Falun Gong practitioners are being persecuted,” but they don’t know that at the same time, our families and our coworkers all got threatened. For example, my ex-husband was forced by the 610 Office [the above-the-law police force established to eliminate Falun Gong] to divorce me when I was in jail.
And they forced my father to say … , “Well, if you don’t follow what the Communist Party asked you to do, to denounce Falun Gong, we’re going to cut [off] our biological relationship.” That sounds ridiculous, right? But then it’s what the communist regime forced innocent people to do, to put pressure on your family, to create all this fear, because people don’t want to lose their existing benefits, their comfort needs, their livelihoods, their jobs, their freedom, even their lives. The communists just create fear for everyone related.
For example, they will force the inmates to torture us, and if they follow what they said, they will get released quickly, earlier. That’s a benefit. If the police will torture us, and also force us to transform and denounce Falun Gong, they get promoted. They get an extra bonus for it. It’s all about that.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about something that’s very fresh in the news right now and frankly has a lot of us really worried and a lot of good friends of mine very worried, which is this new Hong Kong national security law. What are the implications for Falun Gong?
Mr. Browde: The implication is actually worse than mainland China in terms of what could happen to a Falun Gong practitioner or anybody that crosses this law in Hong Kong, and that’s what I think was so shocking about this. And I’ll give you a very specific example: In mainland China, what you tend to see is when they sentence a Falun Gong practitioner to prison, it may be 3 years, 5 years, it goes all the way up to … 18 years. On the Hong Kong law, minimum 10 years; it could be a life sentence. So that’s one example of how … they’ve actually outdone themselves where the implication for people inside Hong Kong could be worse.
There’s also this draconian aspect of this law where for very vaguely worded reasons, authorities in Beijing could decide “We’re going to take whoever it is that was just arrested in Hong Kong, we’re going to bring them to mainland China, and we’re going to do the trial there,” where obviously they have total control over the entire legal system, prosecution, judges and so forth. So it has made Hong Kong as bad, if not worse, than Mainland China.
One other thing that’s particularly troubling about the law is there are aspects of it that allowed Chinese agents to come in and basically operate in the offices of Hong Kong. And so, the 610 Office, which is sort of the Chinese Gestapo for persecuting Falun Gong—that’s its sole mission—now has the legal framework to come in and operate in Hong Kong, and so [it’s] very much a concern for anybody who practices or speaks out or advocates in any way for Falun Gong in Hong Kong.
Mr. Jekielek: So this is actually fascinating for our viewers: just the concept that there is an organization like a Gestapo that you described that’s solely dedicated to the destruction of Falun Gong. That’s been operating for how long?
Mr. Browde: 21 years.
Mr. Jekielek: And so tell me about this organization. What kind of powers does it have? What does it actually do?
Sure. So the organization is called the 610 Office, and it was formed in June of 1999, which is before they announced the persecution, so they were already preparing this. It’s an extralegal agency that reports directly to the Politburo, which means it has jurisdiction over the whole country, over any government agency, over any group of police. And their sole mission—they were created solely to implement Jiang Zemin’s persecution campaign against Falun Gong, which is kind of how they’ve got the name China’s Gestapo.
That’s all that they do, and they can override decisions at the provincial level, the city level, the local level, when they want to go after Falun Gong, and they’ve been operating for 21 years. Now, as the CCP has done frequently in other regards, a few years ago, there was an announcement, “Oh, we’re going to dissolve the 610 Office. We’re no longer going to have that.” But after that, even as early as most recently as this year, we’ve got documents coming out of China and other evidence to indicate that indeed, this agency is still operational and is still doing the core function of persecuting Falun Gong. So that’s what China’s Gestapo was all about.
Mr. Jekielek: So basically, these guys I can come in and commandeer any security resources.
Mr. Browde: That’s correct. And again, they report to the Politburo, and so they are really a Communist Party entity above the government.
Mr. Jekielek: So Levi, we’ve been becoming aware, I guess, as the free world, especially over the last few years of how much influence and power the Chinese Communist Party yields over American, international, and all sorts of institutions. … FARA reports $19 million was spent just on China Daily inserts in major American media by the Chinese Communist Party. How is the Chinese Communist Party influencing the media? Has it influenced the reporting on Falun Gong or the lack of reporting on Falun Gong?
Mr. Browde: I think you have to conclude that it has, and I say that for a few reasons. First of all, if you just look at across industries [the CCP is present], I mean, look at what happened with the NBA, right? Normally you have players and coaches who are very politically vocal, which is great, more power to them. But along comes one person who says something about Hong Kong, and suddenly the CCP swoops in. And everybody goes quiet. No one wants to answer questions. And when they do, they obviously haven’t done their homework.
You see this in Hollywood. You certainly see it in government. Inevitably, you’re going to see it in the media. Our media companies are companies; they’re for-profit companies. Many of them have enormous business interest in China. And that aside, we’ve had several reporters that are very candid with us who tell us that there’s only so far they can go in terms of exposing the CCP, because they might be kicked out of China or they might lose these business interests. So it is invariably so that media coverage of Falun Gong is being influenced by the CCP, just like the CCP is influencing all these other sectors.
I think there’s another interesting aspect of this. And that is, how did we get to this place? How did the CCP become such an entity that would influence us in this regard? The persecution of Falun Gong played a role in that. So again, going back to 1999, you’ve got 100 million people all around the country, from every sort of walk of life, how are you going to persecute those people? You have to weaponize every institution of society in order to get that done? And what does that mean?
Well, one of the prominent features of this we saw over the years is that people who would persecute Falun Gong, who would go along with this, rise in the ranks. Those who would not would be demoted or often sometimes fired. I mean, literally, if you’re a leader in a business, if you’re the one who’s going to say, “Okay, I’ve identified three Falun Gong people in my work unit, get them off to a labor camp,” you’re going to go up because of that. We saw this in every industry across China. So what does that do for the culture of the business for the society at large? This essentially criminalizes all these institutions.
Geoffrey Nice, actually, who was the lead prosecutor in the China Tribunal that you referenced, said as much in the final judgement. He investigated the forced organ harvesting and came to the conclusion that with the CCP, we’re dealing with a criminal state. And it really is true, and the implementation of the Falun Gong persecution is a large part of creating that.
Now we in the international community have to deal with that, because these institutions that have been weaponized, that have been imbued with the mechanisms of persecution—of having leadership that would do that, having propaganda policies around what they do—is now touching our government, our businesses, our media. And we’re seeing the effects of that. If you look at the NBA, if you look at some of the things that the Chinese regime is doing in calling our members of Congress and asking them to persecute Falun Gong, or do this or do that. The type of influence we’re seeing in every sector where we interact with the CCP has that character and has that risk to us.
Mr. Jekielek: So Levi, this brings to mind another case. Actually, very, very recently, in the middle of 2020, a very affluent woman was sentenced to eight years, as I understand it, purely for practicing Falun Gong.
Mr. Browde: Yeah. What’s interesting about her case is she’s a Canadian citizen. So let’s take a look at what happened to her years ago. She’s the VP of a multi-billion dollar biochemical company in China. Many years ago, several years ago, she was in China. She was pulled out of her apartment, and she was arrested just because she’s a Falun Gong practitioner.
And for years, the Canadian government has been voicing their concern. The community, obviously the human rights community has been protesting her being detained. And she’s been through just some horrific things. Because of the tense situation, her husband was forced to divorce her. There have been 11 lawyers who’ve tried to take on … her case and have not been allowed to. She’s been sort of persecuted while in prison for years. And then at the end of June of this year, suddenly, the CCP announces, “Oh, we’re imprisoning her for eight years.” Again, simply because she’s a Falun Gong practitioner, and despite all the protests of the Canadian government and the international community,
Mr. Jekielek: Levi, looking at this case, this woman has been in jail for a number of years. Now, she’s suddenly sentenced to eight more after years of persecution already. The Canadian government is helpless to help its own citizen in this situation. It makes me think of this, let’s call it, wild lack of transparency for what happens in China, and this actually has been highlighted recently by the coronavirus situation, … the Chinese influence on the WHO, all these things. It reminds me of something that David Matas has written about pretty recently, which is that had we, as the free world, I suppose, demanded more transparency in the realm of organ transplants and other realms of China, maybe this would have never happened—this whole coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Browde: I think it’s an excellent point. And it’s a tragic reminder about how important it is to keep your eye on egregious human rights abuses. In the case, I think the point he was making is that if we’d taken this seriously, we would have made sure that not only were they stopping organ harvesting, but we could see it, right? We would have enough transparency into China, we could see that, and had that transparency been in place the pandemic would have never happened.
Is he right? I think what’s interesting here is Taiwan, because Taiwan is an example. I think that he is right. So let’s take a look at Taiwan. Back on December 31st, their doctors were watching the chatter from the Wuhan doctors, and they knew right away [that] we had a deadly virus on our hands, and it was human transmittable. And then so that’s the transparency part.
They were also … one of the biggest victims outside of China of SARS. They were hit very, very hard. And so they also had an awareness that whatever the CCP says about this virus, do not listen to it. Combined with that transparency and the knowledge to not listen to the talking points of the CCP, they got to work. Immediately back on December 31st, more than a month before the rest of the world was doing this, they were already monitoring traffic coming in from Wuhan and the rest of China.
They’ve never had to lock down this entire time. They’ve had only seven deaths. In the United States, we have what 130,000? Brazil has 60,000. Seven! You can safely say Taiwan never had the pandemic. Yes, they take precautionary measures. They wear face masks, but they never had to take any of the lockdown measures we’ve had. And they’ve had only seven deaths. They did that because they had transparency into exactly what was happening with China, and they had enough awareness to know not to believe the CCP or anybody speaking for them, and they should act in their own best interest according to their own medical personnel. I think Taiwan proves that David Matas is right.
Mr. Jekielek: So Levi, any final words before we finish up?
Mr. Browde: Well, [there are] a couple things I’d like to say. One is to let people know that this is still going on. Again, day after day, we get cases from China and we know of [arrests]. For example, at the end of June, there was a group of 36 people that were rounded up in the Beijing area, because they’re Falun Gong practitioners. One of them was a 68-year-old woman. Just a few hours later, she dies in police custody.
Back on April 19th, I remember this case [involving] a woman who was not a Falun Gong practitioner. Her husband was a practitioner, but she was defending him. The police picked her up; she was abused in custody; and she died. So this is something that’s very much continuing and going on, even to this very day. And it remains tragic even after 21 years.
The other thing I would say is that it’s important to stay informed about this kind of thing. Our organization, the Falun Dafa Information Center can be found online at Faluninfo.net And there’s a wealth of information there about not only what’s happening in China, but what people are doing here in the United States and other countries. Our Congress is taking action. There’s another resolution actually on the Senate side that is condemning the persecution, particularly forced organ harvesting. These things matter; they make a difference. So if you want to help, go to the website, find out what’s going on [and] give your congressman or your senator a call, in this case, and let them know this matters to you.
Mr. Jekielek: So Crystal, what would you say to all the Hong Kongers that are hoping to preserve freedom in Hong Kong?
Ms. Chen: I will say: don’t give up. Based on my personal experience, a lot of people right now … take a peek at the Hong Kong situation. That’s kind of like a window to showcase the evil nature of the CCP. And that’s why people think that there is no hope for people to fight against, because they have the whole apparatus: military, police, even arms. They have everything. We’re just innocent citizens without arms. The only thing that Hong Kong people have is an umbrella to fight against. But I will say that there is hope.
Some people right now say that Falun Gong practitioners are the only one group to survive the persecution of the CCP for the longest time, more than 20 years. For example, the Tiananmen massacre and all those political campaigns, even the 10 years of Cultural Revolution, didn’t last that long. But the Falun Gong practitioners are so persistent. And then they survived for more than 20 years, even though the persecution still exists and is still going on right now at this moment. It never stops.
I think it’s because Falun Gong, actually, is true spirituality. It’s not a movement. To me, it’s spirituality. Like I said, I have been through all this persecution and physical torture. I don’t think it’s because of how strong I am. I’m just an ordinary petite size, lady. But when I was in a life and death danger, I would reach out for divine help. I don’t think that a human being can defeat the evil force. I can only ask for help from the divine beings to give me strength to endure and to break through. That’s my experience.
Mr. Jekielek: Crystal Chen, such a pleasure to have you on.
Ms. Chen: Thank you for having me, Jan.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.