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China's other world

August 29, 2008

Leeshai Lemish
The Statesman (UK)
August 26, 2008

Leeshai Lemish tells of his and Ethan Gutmann's journey into the
persecution of Falun Gong

It was 2:00 am and we were sitting on the floor of a Bangkok slum. We
had a flight to catch the next morning, but after interviewing Falun
Gong refugees for a week we still couldn't pull away from what they
were telling us.

'At first I thought it was just me. But then, one after another, more
Falun Gong practitioners were brought into our cell', Chen Jie said.
'Their bellies, chest and backs were also covered with black bubbles
from being shocked with cattle-prods'.

Chen and all our interviewees had close friends killed by Chinese
police. They were the lucky survivors. I left with a sickening
feeling - there's no way I can ever do their stories justice.

For a year Ethan Gutmann (author of Losing the New China) and I have
been travelling the world conducting interviews for his forthcoming
book. We've received research grants from Earheart Foundation and
Sweden's Wallenberg family, and keep our budget low by sleeping on
floors and eating instant noodles. But we're too embarrassed to
complain, considering the stories we hear morning to night.

Confess!

The practitioners we interviewed provided corresponding accounts of
persecution they experienced. Here is what it looks like.

Detained for protesting, distributing leaflets, or even practising
their faith at home, they are first stripped naked. They are then
starved and denied sleep. You will not eat, sleep or go to the
toilet, they are told, until you renounce Falun Gong.

Next, relatives are manipulated. Li Weixun told us how her mother was
brought in to pressure her into writing a forced confession:

'My mother said, "Just write it so we can go home, OK"? I chocked back tears.

"I'll kneel before you"! I held her and said, "Mom, you know Falun
Gong made me healthy and happy. What I did was perfectly legal -
they're the ones breaking the law". My heart bled as I watched my
mother leave.'

 From the detention centre, where they are often beaten and hung in
painful positions, practitioners are sent to 'reform through labour'
camps. Some reports estimate that over half the camps' total
population are Falun Gong.

In these camps' cells they work as slaves making products exported to
the West. The cell reeks of faeces and urine. When the disposable
chopsticks they are wrapping fall on the floor, Chen Ying told us in
Paris, they are ordered to wrap them anyway, their fingernails
stained with pus and blood.

No illusion

Some, like Li Heping from Hangzhou, were injected with unknown
psychotropics. The shot sent the former Motorola technician into
hallucinations in which he was surrounded by snakes, frozen, and
burned alive, repeatedly dying countless times.

Those were illusions, but real and equally terrifying are reports
that Falun Gong practitioners are being killed of their kidneys,
livers, and hearts. Fifteen practitioners told us how they were
pulled aside from other inmates and given bizarre physical exams –
blood tests, torso X-rays, sonograms, urine samples and little else –
apparently targeting their organ function. This added to existing
evidence, including doctors' admissions recorded on tape.

So are these horror stories real, or is it just these people's word
against Chinese government denials? The over 100 people we
interviewed, and the torture scars some showed, left no ambiguities –
this persecution is ongoing and nationwide.

But you don't have to take our word for it. The arrests, torture, and
deaths of Falun Gong adherents are regular features in annual reports
by U.N. Special Rapporteurs and organisations like Amnesty International.

Accounts by former policeman Hao Fengjun, who defected to Sydney,
corroborate details of beatings, electric baton shock, fabricated
propaganda films, and a huge Falun Gong prison population. Other
defectors say police act on internal orders coming all the way from the top.

Those who refuse to cooperate are severely punished. A Christian
human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, investigated and corroborated
Falun Gong's persecution claims, only to be arrested and tortured himself.

Hidden nearby

The Chinese Communist Party, of course, has gone to great length to
hide these atrocities and to buy international silence. That doesn't
make the persecution any less real for practitioners and their families.

Several of my overseas Chinese friends recently called China only to
discover their parents had been arrested. Through pre-Olympics
roundups over 8,000 practitioners have been detained, some sentenced
to years in labour camps.

Blocks away from skyscrapers and Olympic venues in China's other
world are labour camps and prisons full of Falun Gong practitioners.
Chinese media, of course, can report none of this.

Even Western journalists told me their newspapers have a blackout
policy on Falun Gong. But the complicity of the West is an issue I'll
leave to my next, and final, entry.

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