Q & A with visiting Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Matas


During Passover, Jews around the world retell the ancient story of Exodus and redemption from persecution; of the Hebrews who were feared by Pharoah and forced into slavery. Sadly, today a similar story of repression, forced labor and killings is being played out in China where people who practice a spiritual belief system called Falun Gong are being imprisoned, tortured and murdered for their organs.

Last week, Congregation B’nai Amoona welcomed one of the world’s foremost experts on these atrocities, David Matas, who spoke about his research and subsequent book about these human rights violations. The book, “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for their Organs,” was written with his co-author David Kilgour.

Matas, a native and resident of Winnipeg, Canada, is an attorney who specializes in refugee, immigration and human rights law. He was nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his work about the Falun Gong and received the 2010 International Society for Human Rights – Swiss Section – Human Rights Prize.

Matas spoke with the Jewish Light about the killing of the Falun Gong in China and why Americans should be concerned.

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How did you first get involved with the Falun Gong?

As a refugee lawyer, I knew they were being persecuted. But then I heard a woman testify that her husband was harvesting organs in China in a hospital. We were asked by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution Against Falun Gong, a non-governmental organization, to look into this allegation. When I first started doing the research I hoped it wasn’t true. But I knew enough about human rights and China to know that just because it sounded awful didn’t mean that it wasn’t true.

What did you find out?

In 1999, the Chinese government banned the observance of Falun Gong, which is a spiritual practice that combines ancient traditions of physical movement, Buddhism, Taoism and qigong. The government is afraid of these ancient traditions since they are the opposite of Communism. Even though Falun Gong had been founded only seven years prior (in 1992), it had grown to the point where it was larger than the Communist Party.

After the ban, there were protests and arrests. People were (and continue to be) asked to recant their practice of Falun Gong. If they recanted, then they were released. If they didn’t, then they were tortured. If they didn’t recant after that, then they were thrown into forced labor camps. People are taken out of these labor camps and killed for their organs.

The hospitals in China switched from socialism to capitalism, which means now charging patients. So, in order to keep their doors open a lot of the money made from selling these organs is going to the hospitals. Some of the money goes into the pockets of the prison guards and hospital personnel.

How long has China been harvesting organs?

Since 2001. When we first started investigating, China said these organs were all donated, which was not true. Then they said the organs came from prisoners who were sentenced to death. Based on our research, which includes numbers provided by Amnesty International, there have been 10,000 transplants, three-quarters of which came from Falun Gong practioneers and one-fourth from prisoners who were sentenced to death.

Why is this subject important for American Jews?

This is a crime against humanity and everyone should be concerned, Jews and non-Jews. The Jewish population may be more sympathetic and understanding because we’ve been a victimized population. But, as we learned in World War II, it may have begun with the Jews but it didn’t end with the Jews. The Holocaust led to the war and ended with people being killed all over the world. What’s going on in China against the Falun Gong is now spreading to harvesting the organs of Tibetans and Uighurs. The office created in China to repress the Falun Gong has expanded to repress others.

What can people do to help?

To start with, don’t go to China to receive an organ transplant. In Canada we have a bill making transplant tourism illegal and prohibiting buying an organ without getting consent from the donor. It would be nice to have that same thing in the USA.

Here in the United States the House has already passed a resolution about the persecution of the Falun Gong. Get the Senate to pass one too and then get the Administration to act on it. Get Missouri and the city of St. Louis to pass resolutions. Talk to the business people in China with whom you do business. They can pass on to the government what they’re being told by us. Write letters to the editors of your papers. Send e-mails to the president of China; I’ve been told that he reads his own e-mail. The more pressure we can apply the better. The Chinese government wants to save face and will do what it takes to undercut a negative image.

What about boycotting goods from China?

That won’t work because China runs dual facilities: whatever China does through forced labor camps it also duplicates in outside facilities. The goods are merged so when anyone asks for an inspection, China shows the non-labor camp facility.