Monday, February 05, 2007

Religious freedom in China and the Falungong body snatcher

Well, not the whole body,... The headline reads, “Chinese army harvesting parts from Falungong inmates.” The article begins, “China's military is reportedly harvesting organs from prison inmates, mostly Falungong practitioners, for large scale transplants including for foreign recipients, a study said.”

Falungong is a new religion that originated about fifteen years ago in China. It appears to be a fairly harmless (as religions go these days) pastiche of various elements of popular Buddhism, emphasizing Qigong-style breathing exercises, healthy living, and meditation. Fà lún 法輪 is the Chinese translation of Sanskrit dharmacakra, “Wheel of the (Buddha’s) Law” and gōng 功 means, in this context, “exercise,” or “practice.” [For reasons known only to the Mainland geniuses who cooked up the currently-fashionable Pinyin Romanization scheme, “lun” and “gong” have the same vowel sound - both rhyme with “book”.]

The founder, or “revealer” as he prefers to be known, of Falungong – perhaps “the decider” was already taken by then – is a 55-year-old Chinese man named Li Hongzhi 李洪志. Depending on whom you believe, Li’s life from early childhood until his 1992 revelation of Falungong was spent either in almost forty years of intensive study and practice of esoteric Buddhism, or consisted of a ne’er-do-well childhood, followed by a tour as a trumpet player in an Army band and a later career as part-time security guard at a cereal factory.

Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution [English 中文 ] guarantees freedom of religion, unless its believers “disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state.” Whatever its merits or demerits as a religion, it appears that Falungong practitioners quietly doing breathing exercises in public parks have somehow fallen afoul of one of those exclusions.

For reasons that have not been adequately explained, membership in Falungong is now deemed a serious political crime. The religion is officially banned in China (except in Macau and Hong Kong) and its members subject to immediate arrest and imprisonment without due process of (Chinese) law.

According to the study cited in the article linked above, once the Falungong believers are locked up in military prisons, they are all “systematically subjected to blood tests to match their organs with recipients.” That information is stored in a database so that when rich foreigners come to China for transplant surgery, perhaps to bypass long waiting lists at home or because the surgery in Chinese military hospitals is much cheaper, they sometimes receive organs from what are demurely called “executed prisoners” in official press releases.

What the globe-trotting transplant shoppers may not know is that the execution may have occurred only a few minutes earlier in an adjacent operating room and the prisoner’s only crime may have been joining the wrong church.

When we give a country “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) status, it means we won’t assess a tariff on any of their goods that is higher than we assess against the hypothetical “most favored nation.” China’s MFN status was revoked by President Truman in 1951, after China invaded its sovereign neighbor Tibet, and incorporated it into the People’s Republic by force.

China decided to wait us out, doing nothing significant to improve conditions in occupied Tibet, while flagrantly abusing the international tariff system. By the early 1970s, with our legendary geopolitical short attention span, we provisionally reestablished China’s MFN status -- now renamed the more harmless-sounding “Normal Trade Relations” (NTR). In 1999, under a Republican Congress and a Democratic President, it was permanently restored so China could apply for membership in the World Trade Organization.

Bills to repeal China’s Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status surface every few years in Congress. Repealing it would be a good way to curb the disgusting trade in organs from executed prisoners of conscience. On the other hand, it might also drive up the cost of organ transplants, Happy Meals and athletic shoes.

Ask your Senator or Representative how they would vote on a tough choice like that.

Crossposted at Watching Those We Choose.

Note: The illustration is the Falungong depiction of the "Falun" or Wheel of the Buddha's Law. The swastika is an ancient Buddhist symbol.

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