China’s other world

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.

Leeshai Lemish has researched and written about Falun Gong since 2001. He has spent the past year travelling around the world to interview its practitioners, including labour camp survivors, for a forthcoming book.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

If the cuts are necessary, where's Philip Hammond's deficit target gone?

The Chancellor ripped up his predecessor's plans and has no plan to replace them. What's going on?

Remember austerity?

I’m not talking about the cuts to public services, which are very much still ongoing. I’m talking about the economic argument advanced by the Conservatives from the financial crisis in 2007-8 up until the European referendum: that unlesss the British government got hold of its public finances and paid down its debt, the United Kingdom would be thrown into crisis as its creditors would get nervous.

That was the rationale for a programme of cuts well in excess of anything their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, campaigned on in the run-up to the 201 election. It was the justification for cuts to everything from English language lessons to library hours. It was the stick used to beat Labour in the 2015 election. Now it justifies cuts to payments to families that lose a parent, to mental health services and much else besides.

Which is odd, because there’s something missing from this election campaign: any timetable from the Tories about when, exactly, they intend to pay all that money back. Neither the government’s day-to-day expenditure nor its existing debt can meaningfully be said to be any closer to being brought into balance than they were in 2010.

To make matters worse, Philip Hammond has scrapped George Osborne’s timetable and plan to secure both a current account surplus and to start paying off Britain’s debts. He has said he will bring forward his own targets, but thus far, none have been forthcoming.

Which is odd, because if the nervousness of Britain’s creditors is really something to worry about, their causes for worry have surely increased since 2015, not decreased. Since then, the country has gone from a byword for political stability to shocking the world with its vote to leave the European Union. The value of its currency has plummetted. Its main opposition party is led by a man who, according to the government at least, is a dangerous leftist, and, more to the point, a dangerous leftist that the government insists is on the brink of taking power thanks to the SNP. Surely the need for a clear timetable from the only party offering “strong and stable” government is greater than ever?

And yet: the government has no serious plan to close the deficit and seems more likely to add further spending commitments, in the shape of new grammar schools, and the possible continuation of the triple lock on pensions.  There seems to be no great clamour for Philip Hammond to lay out his plans to get the deficit under control.

What gives?

Could it all, possibly, have been a con to advance the cause of shrinking the state?

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496