Guardina UK: European politicians are expressing their concern about China's appalling human-rights record ahead of the Beijing Olympics
February 17, 2008 12:00 AM
On 1 January this year Torsten Trey, chief executive director of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, sent a letter to, among others, Steven Spielberg and George W Bush. He wrote: 'It is reasonable to say that in China organs are removed from executed prisoners as well as from living, non-consenting donors, in particular from practitioners of the peaceful meditation movement Falun Gong. As medical doctors, we are extremely concerned about these practices.'
On Tuesday, at a meeting in London, European Parliament vice-president Edward McMillan-Scott expanded on those concerns. 'They are hosting a sporting event intended to promote peace and at the same time people are being killed for their organs,' said Trey. 'It is outrageous. Once you are a prisoner of conscience you are outlawed and lose any rights. You are just a body mass.'
Later that evening Spielberg resigned as artistic director for the Beijing Olympics. There was no connection between the two events - Spielberg, after all, cited China's failure to put pressure on Sudan to ease the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, not transplant trading, as the reason for his decision - other than that the staging of the Olympics in Beijing means that China will be examined more closely and more critically than ever before.
There are plenty of areas of concern. Also speaking on Tuesday was Annie Yang. 'On 1 March 2005, without any legal procedure, I was arrested at home and sentenced to two years in a Chinese labour camp,' she said. This was for being a practitioner of Falun Gong, an organisation that is part Taoist, part Buddhist, and that flourished in the wake of communism before being banned as 'an evil cult' in 1999.
In an effort to make Yang renounce her beliefs, she was forced to survive on 500ml of water a day and half a slice of Chinese bread. She was also tortured. 'They made you sit with your knees closed, your feet closed, your back very straight and your hands on your knees for 20 hours without closing your eyes. No one dared look at me. Only this one woman waved at me and she has now been tortured to death.'
Yang, an antiques dealer, recanted and four months later was asked by the authorities if she wanted to be a spy in London. She declined the offer.
Anne Holmes, from the Free Tibet campaign, said that 'silence is the cost of doing business in China'. Silence, in particular, about what is happening in Tibet. 'There are some monks who must be protected and others who are invisible,' she said, comparing the country to Burma. China's influence is so great over Tibet and around the world, she says, that 'Belgium no longer welcomes the Dalai Lama'.
China, in contrast, welcomes transplant tourists - it is alleged that 40,000 unexplained operations have been conducted in recent years. Also present on Tuesday was Professor Tom Treasure, a noted heart-transplant surgeon, who wrote an essay last year for the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine entitled 'The Falun Gong, organ transplantation, the holocaust and ourselves'. In this he noted that waiting times for such operations in China were a mere one to two weeks and the cost under a tenth of what is charged in the United States. He also drew attention to the fact that, on being incarcerated, members of Falun Gong are blood-tested. This is unlikely to be for their own good, but is most helpful if you are looking for a blood-group match for organ donation.
As McMillan-Scott pointed out: 'What makes it even more ghoulish is that the Falun Gong are regarded as good quarry because they neither smoke nor drink.' Transplanting the organs of executed criminals is one thing, but using the organs of the living one hoped belonged in science fiction.
McMillan-Scott has long campaigned against human-rights abuses in China. He last visited the country in May 2006 and 'all the reformists I had contact with have been arrested, and at least three of them tortured'. Last August he talked from the same meeting room in which we were sitting to eco-dissident Hu Jia in Beijing by live phone link. On 29 January Hu Jia was convicted of subversion.
'There are 1.3 billion Chinese, most of whom are desperately unhappy living under a corrupt, arbitrary and paranoid regime which is dangerous to them,' he says. 'It is a terror state.' Particularly if you are a practitioner of Falun Gong. 'They have been subjected to systematic repression,' says McMillan-Scott. 'Falun Gong are to the Chinese what the Jews were to the Nazis. And that's an understatement.'
Perhaps. One way in which they are being treated worse is that they are prohibited from competing in the Games. Hitler, in contrast, allowed one half-Jewish fencer to represent Germany and excluded the rest. Helene Mayer won silver in the individual foil.
Comparisons with Berlin have seen Beijing labelled the Genocide Games. This term is somewhat melodramatic, although it does remind one of Chairman Mao's massacre of 70 million of his citizens during the Cultural Revolution. It is a reminder that worse things happen behind closed doors than partially open ones and, grim and nasty as life is in China, it may be less grim and nasty than it was. In part, this is because of the Olympic Games. Playing host means you are open to scrutiny and Tibet, Darfur and transplant tourism are subjects up for discussion.
Limited aims may be achievable and last year the number of transplants decreased considerably following the passage of the Human Organ Transportation Act.
There is, however, only limited leverage that can be exerted because the total boycott the admirable McMillan-Scott demands is just not going to happen. This is because the Olympic Games, like US vice-president Dick Cheney, are more about commerce than politics. The defining modern Games, after all, came in 1996 when they shared a home with Coca-Cola. Once the sponsors take over, they become indelibly corporate. Spielberg and a few others excepted, the capitalist West will flock to Beijing to do what it always does - shift product.