Awareness of organ harvesting raised
Tears glistened in the eyes of Angela Huang as she recounted her two years of imprisonment without trial in China from 2001 to 2003.
Huang said her detention, along with extended periods of surveillance and harassment, was because she was an adherent of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual practice also known as Falun Dafa.
She was in Palmerston North last week as part of the national SOS Car Tour raising awareness about forced state-sanctioned organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
In July 1999, Huang said the Chinese government cracked down on groups promoting spiritual practices, singling out the Buddhist-based Falun Dafa, which had grown during the 90s to have as many as 100 million adherents.
With similarities to tai chi and yoga, followers said the traditional Chinese meditation practice was based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance, with exercises to purify body and mind. However, its growing popularity was regarded as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party.
On the website of the Wellington Chinese Embassy, Falun Gong is described as an "anti-social", "anti-humanity" and "evil" cult, accompanied by a decade-old list of reports decrying the belief.
With help from translator Daisy Lee, Huang described how the persecution and imprisonment cost her job - 18 years working for a Shanghai television station - her freedom, her marriage, and separation from her 13-year-old son.
Leaving home in secret, she was eventually able to claim refugee status in New Zealand in 2007. Subsequently, Huang was reunited with her son, who is here as an international student.
Lee said others on the tour had also been "demonised", beaten, illegally imprisoned, and forced to undergo "brainwashing".
The September 2016 issue of New York-based Falun Gong newspaper Epoch Times claimed that up to 1.5 million organ transplants, largely from non-consenting prisoners of conscience, including Falun Gong, may have taken place in China since 2000.
"Chinese people don't make [many] organ donations. It's a cultural thing. So where does China get to be the biggest [international] organ transplant centre?" Lee asked.
The United States House of Representatives and European Parliament passed resolutions condemning the practice earlier this year. It was the subject of Ethan Gutmann's 2014 book The Slaughter, and several films, including 2005 documentary Hard to Believe, and this year's award-winning human rights drama The Bleeding Edge.