For Canadians with family members who are imprisoned in China for handing out flyers and similar “crimes,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip there on Aug. 30 offers a glimmer of hope.
Hongyan Lu, of Ottawa, has held press conferences and protests about her mother’s forced disappearance on June 3 when Chinese security personnel in Shijiazhuang City detained her.
Chen’s crime was meeting with other people who practise Falun Gong, a Buddha school meditation practice that teaches its adherents to cultivate truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance as a way to reach spiritual enlightenment.
Chen had been taken previously by police in 2003 and imprisoned for three months for handing out flyers about Falun Gong. Her husband paid to have her released.
“My father bribed the police 30,000 RMB (about C$6,000) and took several police and government officials to luxury restaurants,” recounts Lu in a letter to Global Affairs, Canada’s newly re-titled foreign affairs department.
Lu is now hoping Trudeau can speak out for her mother while he’s in China.
“I hope he can mention this case and ask the leadership to release my mom because she didn’t do anything wrong; and also ask them to address the persecution,” she said, referring to the campaign launched against Falun Gong by the regime in 1999.
Chen’s story is typical of many Falun Gong adherents. She suffered from several chronic illnesses, including hepatitis B, but found almost miraculous healing through Falun Gong.
After her mother was detained this time, police denied they had her. When some of those arrested with Chen were released, they told Lu of her mother’s fate.
“In the first 20-plus days of her custody in Shijiazhuang Dongyuan police station, she was tortured and locked in a chair made with metal bars and not allowed to move,” wrote Lu.
“This destroyed her health and made it hard for her to walk or stand up, and she’s very weak. Meanwhile, she is forced to endure their brainwashing sessions.”
On July 15 many of the practitioners detained with Chen were released, cutting off the information channel Lu used to learn about her mother. Her relatives in China are unable to get updates and have been told they can’t hire a lawyer.
“We have no idea what’s happening or what may happen to my mother.”
Officials refuse to acknowledge they have Chen in custody. Lu learned that this could be because her mother is refusing to provide her identity to police, a way to avoid bringing trouble to her family due to the regime’s policy of guilt by association.
Lu’s father was forced to divorce her mother due to constant threats and harassment under this policy.
“He simply couldn’t take the pressure of the persecution anymore,” recounts Lu.
Guilt by association is part of a quiet campaign being waged to wipe out Falun Gong. It is the legacy of Jiang Zemin, who exercised significant control over the country even a decade after he left office in 2003 through loyalists he appointed to key positions.
Current leader Xi Jinping has been relentlessly removing Jiang’s allies during his anti-corruption campaign.
Since 2015, Xi has also allowed Chinese citizens to file lawsuits against senior Communist Party officials by requiring China’s top legal bodies to accept and acknowledge all criminal complaints.
Over 200,000 criminal complaints have been filed against Jiang. Lu filed a legal complaint herself last year.
Organ Harvesting Risk
Lu and others like her are haunted by mounting evidence that Falun Gong practitioners are the primary source of organs used in China’s for-profit transplant industry.
“My greatest concern is that my mother may fall victim to the illicit organ transplant business and just disappear,” says Lu.
That is what Michelle Zhang fears has happened to her sister, Yunhe, who disappeared into China’s incarceration system in 2002 and hasn’t been heard from since. Officials there have never given the family an official account of Yunhe’s arrest, detention, or whereabouts.
“I don’t know where my sister is. I don’t know what they did to her, but if she was alive, I think she would have found a way to contact us by now,” said Zhang.
A dozen Canadians have come forward about their family members imprisoned in China—5 mothers (one in-law), 2 fathers (one in-law), 2 daughters, a brother-in-law, a sister, and a cousin, with the longest prison term of 13 years.
None of them committed what would regularly count as crimes. But in China, revealing the abuses inflicted by the Chinese Communist Party is severely punished, especially when it comes to Falun Gong. In all but one case, those arrested were discussing or sharing information either about Falun Gong or the persecution of Falun Gong.
The exception is Yinghua Chen, the daughter of Calgary resident and Canadian citizen Jinling Huang. Yinghua was picked up by police on March 12, 2014, when she accompanied her cousin Xiaohui Bian to protest at the prison where Bian’s father was held for practising Falun Gong.
Yinghua was sentenced to four years in prison on April 10, 2015.
According to Minghui.org, a clearinghouse for information about practitioners in China, guards force-fed Yinghua after she went on a hunger strike to protest her imprisonment. They also hung her up and tortured her. It was her third time being being imprisoned for speaking out.
Torontonian Paul Li’s father, Xiaobo Li, was sentenced to eight years in prison for distributing flyers about the persecution. He had only recently been released from an eight-year sentence handed down in 2005 for writing articles about the persecution.
Hope for Release of Family Members
For Hongyan Lu, Michelle Zhang, Jinling Huang, Paul Li, and the others, one of their greatest hopes is that Trudeau will use diplomatic channels to get their family members released.
They know that Canadian officials have done it before. They also know that the Canadian government routinely speaks out about human rights issues in China.
Canada was the first country to raise the issue of forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners at the United Nations in 2015.
Other countries have also spoken out. The European Union passed a resolution in 2013 calling on China to immediately stop harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience. In 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning China’s system of state-sanctioned organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience. Canada’s parliamentary subcommittee on human rights have also condemned the practice and called for an immediate end to it.
Spain, Israel, and Taiwan have passed legislation making it illegal for their citizens to get organ transplants in China.
Austin Jean, a spokesperson for Global Affairs, says Canada will continue to call on China to respect human rights.
“Canada has publicly voiced concerns about the intimidation and repression of Falun Gong and other religious groups,” he wrote in an email to Epoch Times.
“Canada recommended that China take immediate measures to implement the November 2008 recommendations of the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which included a call for an independent investigation into the claims that Falun Gong practitioners had been subjected to torture and used for organ transplants,” he wrote.
Trudeau’s trip comes shortly after a new report was released detailing how China’s transplant industry is conducting 60,000 to 100,000 organ transplants a year.
The report is an update to “Bloody Harvest,” the groundbreaking 2006 report on the issue by former MP and secretary of state David Kilgour and Winnipeg-based international human rights lawyer David Matas.
Investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann, author of “The Slaughter,” contributed to the update of that report, which was released June 22. It places organ transplants at up to 10 times the 10,000 volume of transplants a year claimed by the regime.
The regime claims those organs come from executed criminals.
But in their recent and previous work, the researchers describe a system of profit-through-genocide created through the murder of China’s significant prison population of Falun Gong practitioners.
“We provide much evidence of an industrial-scale, state-directed organ transplantation system, controlled through national policies and funding, and implicating both the military and civilian healthcare systems.” Kilgour stated upon the release of the updated report.
With files from Matthew Little