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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Posting date: 31/Aug/2008
Original article date: 20/Aug/2008