Early in the morning in most Australian capital cities, they can be found meditating and exercising in matching yellow clothing while one in the group will find a busy walkway to stand and hand out flyers. Most people ignore them, but Falun Gong have caught the attention of the NSW Greens.
Falun Gong practitioners have been persecuted by the Chinese government since 1999. Those who are arrested are forced to denounce their beliefs, and those who don't are tortured, forced into labour camps and imprisoned. Falun Gong members claim imprisoned members are forced to become live organ donors or are killed for their organs, which can be sold on the black market for up to US$250,000. The Chinese government denies prisoners are killed for their organs.
In 2014, China banned the harvesting of organs from prisoners, but a report released in June this year suggests while China puts its annual organ transplant statistics at around 10,000 per year, the actual number could be as high as 100,000, based on evidence gathered about the many hospitals equipped for organ donation compared to the low number of reported donations.
"That increased discrepancy leads us to conclude that there has been a far larger slaughter of practitioners of Falun Gong for their organs than we had originally estimated," the report stated.
Falun Gong protesters have been making their case in the streets for years, and they are used to being ignored by passers-by. Greens New South Wales MLC David Shoebridge says they have long been ignored by Australian political parties, too. Shoebridge this month introduced a private members' bill aimed at stopping people in New South Wales from going to China or anywhere else where there is a commercial transaction for organ transplants. The bill proposes criminal prosecutions and jail time of up to 25 years if the organ removal was likely to kill the donor.
He says the precise number of Australians going overseas for a transplant can't be fully known because those people simply fall off the transplant register, but he says over the past 13 years, 176 Australians have been confirmed as going overseas for a transplant. Although none of the data shows whether the transplant was illegal, he estimates about half of them were.
Perhaps owing to the support Shoebridge has received from the Falun Gong community, and the ongoing turmoil in the Greens in New South Wales, Crikey heard rumours that Shoebridge might be "branch stacking" by signing up Falun Gong members in droves to the Greens ahead of a preselection contest next year. One source said it could be the first instance of "ethnic branch stacking in the Greens".
Shoebridge laughed off the suggestion.
"I haven't yet engaged in branch stacking within the party, and I wouldn't start with a human rights issue."
He has been actively investigating the issue of organ harvesting since 2012 and has been working on it since 2013 when a discussion paper was put out. He isn't the only one; Greens MP Jamie Parker has also been involved in the work.
"It's a very slow-burn, cunning plan of mine which I'm not even aware of," he joked.
He says Falun Gong members might feel abandoned by the major parties, who "are willing to put the narrow financial interests of Chinese trade and investment ahead of pretty key human rights concerns", but he says he is sure that the Falun Gong community has a wide range of political views.
"Undoubtedly we've got very strong support in the Falun Gong community but also from human rights organisation such as Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, strong support from the Vietnamese community as well academics from the University of Sydney and Macquarie University."
A previous petition calling for the legislation received 294,745 signatures. When Shoebridge introduced the bill into New South Wales Parliament, the gallery was filled with practitioners of Falun Gong.
Shoebridge is hopeful that if the NSW legislation is successful, it might encourage other states and the Commonwealth to take it up. He says so far he has the unambiguous support of the Christian Democratic Party, and some members of the major parties have indicated their personal support for it. This week is the last sitting week of the year for New South Wales Parliament, however, meaning the legislation will not be debated until Parliament returns.
"I don't think it is guaranteed we'll get major party support, but I know for a fact there are individuals within all the parties in the New South Wales Parliament who support this legislation, and I only hope it can be decided on its merits rather than some party political prism," he said.
Falun Gong practitioners are currently travelling to over 200 regional towns in Australia to draw attention to live organ harvesting.
Good morning, early birds. PM Scott Morrison has announced a plan to reduce Australia’s migration cap, China has been revealed as the perpetrator of a number of cyber thefts in Australia, and a new scheme will give domestic violence victims early access to their super. It’s the news you need to know, with Chris Woods.
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