Former MP pushes for Beijing Games boycott

Kilgour spearheads drive against 'Bloody Harvest Olympics'

The Ottawa Citizen/August 9, 2007

At the birthplace of the Olympic movement, a former Canadian MP will today ignite what he hopes will become a global movement to boycott next year's summer Games in Beijing.

Calling the 2008 Games the "Bloody Harvest Olympics," former Edmonton MP David Kilgour is inviting the media to Athens, Greece, to cover a Global Human Rights Torch Relay.

Once lit in Athens, the torch will travel through 100 cities around the world, including Ottawa. The year-long relay is designed to draw attention to allegations of crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government against practitioners of Falun Gong.

The relay comes as China faces increasing scrutiny over human rights in the run-up to the Olympics. Yesterday, China expelled three Canadians who had been detained after unfurling a banner on the Great Wall in protest over the occupation of Tibet. Canada's Green party yesterday called on the government to exert diplomatic pressure on China to keep the Games from being tarnished by human rights violations.

In a written statement, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa last night said any attempt to politicize the games violates the spirit of the Olympic movement.

"To exploit the chance of the Beijing Olympic Games to engage in anti-China activity is not only shameful but also doomed to fail," the statement said.

While today's torch-lighting is unlikely to spark a widespread boycott of the Games, it will help establish Mr. Kilgour's reputation as a leading voice for Falun Gong practitioners in their ongoing campaign against the Chinese government.

Followers describe Falun Gong as a peaceful belief system that preaches compassion and tolerance. China considers it a dangerous cult that has led devotees to resist needed medical attention and, in rare cases, to self-immolate in protest.

Mr. Kilgour, who once served as secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific region, has a long record as a human rights advocate. In 2005, when sitting as an independent MP, he threatened to withdraw support for then-prime minister Paul Martin's narrow minority government if Canada did not do more to help the people of Darfur, in the Sudan.

Mr. Kilgour made international headlines last year with a report on the persecution of Falun Gong, co-written with Winnipeg lawyer David Matas.

Like no other document before it, the Matas-Kilgour report gave credence to allegations advanced by Falun Gong. Today, its conclusions are regularly cited by the movement's devotees as evidence of abuse at the hands of the Chinese government.

And while much of their work has been embraced by international human rights experts, some have raised doubts about some aspects of the report and its methodology.

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa dismissed it as "groundless" and "based on rumours and false allegations."

But others were also dubious. Researchers working for the U.S. Congress concluded that some of the key allegations in the report "appear to be inconsistent with the findings of other investigations."

At the centre of the report is the claim that the Chinese government harvests the organs of Falun Gong practitioners for sale to foreign tourists. Falun supporters have charged that the Chinese government operated a facility where practitioners were imprisoned, executed, their organs removed and their bodies cremated.

The stories of an alleged concentration camp in northeastern China first surfaced in March 2006 with reports in the Epoch Times, a newspaper that publishes virulently anti-Communist commentary and stories alleging persecution of the Falun Gong movement. The paper cited a secret concentration camp at Sujiatun where, it alleged, 4,500 followers had been executed and cremated.

The mainstream media soon jumped on the story. The National Review Online, a conservative website in the U.S., wrote that "Chinese human-rights activists believe that this name should cause the same shudders as Treblinka and the others." The Toronto Sun made the easy comparison between the Sujiatun claims and Nazi death camps.

Mr. Kilgour and Mr. Matas were asked by a U.S.-based group called the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong in China to look into the allegations of human rights violations. They were not allowed into China, but worked from documents and interviews. In July, they issued a report that concluded China had "put to death a large but unknown number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.

"Their vital organs, including hearts, kidneys, livers and corneas, were virtually simultaneously seized involuntarily for sale at high prices, sometimes to foreigners."

Although the authors stress that they did not rely on any one piece of evidence to reach their conclusion, they said they found "credible" the story of an unnamed woman living in the U.S. with the pseudonym Annie, who claimed to be the former wife of a surgeon in China.

Annie, previously featured in an Epoch Times story, told the Canadians that her husband had removed the corneas from approximately 2,000 Falun Gong prisoners at Sujiatun. The bodies were passed on to other doctors who removed more organs, and then cremated the remains, she claimed. Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour used her information only where it could be corroborated by other information, they wrote.

The report also relied on translated transcripts of telephone calls in which Chinese officials were said to confirm the common harvesting of organs from Falun Gong detainees.

By the time the report was released, doubts about the veracity of the Sujiatun story were growing

The U.S. State Department said officials from its consulate in nearby Shenyang City and the embassy in Beijing had visited Sujiatun twice and found only "a normal public hospital."

Reporters from a Hong Kong newspaper also found no sign of an underground death camp that Falun followers alleged. A machine that was said to be an oven for cremating bodies was, in fact, a boiler room, they concluded.

The Sujiatun story lost more air when Harry Wu, a former political prisoner of the Chinese government and outspoken voice against the Communist government, said he doubted the witness accounts upon which the Sujiatun stories relied. His organization investigated and found the witness statements "unreliable." He concluded the story "may be intentionally fabricated."

While Mr. Wu agreed that the Chinese government brutally persecutes the Falun Gong and others, he said there was no evidence to support the claim that 4,500 practitioners were killed at Sujiatun.

Questions about the Matas-Kilgour report went beyond the allegations about Sujiatun. A paper prepared by the U.S. Congressional Research Service concluded that the report for the most part "does not bring forth new or independently-obtained testimony and relies largely upon the making of logical inferences." It also questioned the transcripts of telephone calls, in which Chinese officials are said to admit using Falun Gong organs.

"Some argue that such apparent candour would seem unlikely given Chinese government controls over sensitive information, which may raise questions about the credibility of the telephone recordings," the research service paper said.

In January, Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour released an updated version of their report and repeated their belief in the story of the unnamed former wife of a surgeon. Mr. Wu had jumped to conclusions about Sujiatun before investigators from his organization completed their work, they claimed.

"What this means is that the views of Harry Wu were not based on the full reports of his investigation," the report claimed.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Wu's organization said this week he has not changed his position on the Sujiatun allegations.

"We haven't found any evidence to support the location and the number and events they have described going on," said Lisa Pertoso, of the Laogai Research Foundation.

Still, by most accounts, there had been a marked rise in the number of organs available for transplantation in China. The government has acknowledged that some organs may come from prisoners, but it claims the condemned agree to donation before their executions.

Some of the executed could be political prisoners or Falun Gong followers, of course. But China vehemently denies an orchestrated genocide or use of Nazi-style concentration camps involving Falun Gong. The government also moved last year to prohibit the sale of organs.

Mr. Matas says there may have been some confusion over Sujiatun based on what he says was a mistaken blending of information about a prison camp and a hospital in one of the Epoch Times stories. He says he continues to believe what the surgeon's ex-wife told him.

But her testimony is not the basis of the report's conclusions, he says. Rather, the findings are drawn mostly from information from the Chinese government itself about numbers of organ transplants, waiting times for transplants, and executed prisoners.

"Our report says it happens throughout China. We have admissions that it happens. We have transcripts, tapes."

Obtaining physical proof of organ harvesting would be impossible, he said

"What forensic evidence could you reasonably expect when you have a cremated body in a totalitarian government?"

Mr. Matas says he supports Mr. Kilgour's calls for a Beijing Games boycott.

"The Olympics are meant to be a pursuit of an ideal," he said. "That ideal is tainted if it's done in a context where human rights are being violated in a flagrant way"

The idea of a boycott has been floated before. Prominent Ottawa Rabbi Reuven Bulka last summer called on the Canadian government to consider boycotting unless China stops harvesting organs from dissidents. This week, the some U.S. congressmen introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives that also called for a boycott unless China curbs "serious human rights abuses."

Mr. Kilgour could not be reached for comment this week, but in a press release issued Tuesday, he compares the upcoming Beijing Olympics to the 1936 Games in Germany.

"In hindsight, all nations should have boycotted the Berlin Olympics in 1936, but at the time, most governments claimed not to know what Hitler had in mind," he is quoted as saying.

"Today, we do know what the government of China has in mind for its Falun Gong community because of what it continues to do to them."

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