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This article was published 10/8/2018 (1145 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two Winnipeggers say they were recently harassed, threatened and had a lit cigarette thrown at them for practising their spiritual beliefs.
On a sunny July morning, Song Liu and Wei Wei Jiang were practising Falun Gong exercises outdoors near Victoria General Hospital when a stranger speaking Mandarin approached them. They’d hung banners nearby that explained the tenets of Falun Gong — a Chinese spiritual practice combining meditation, philosophy and exercise.
Jiang, a middle-aged homemaker, was about to invite the man to join them when the senior got angry, swore at her, took out his smartphone and started to record the Falun Gong practitioners. She told him to stop.
They have a right to practise their beliefs in Canada, said Jiang, who arrived in 2003 from China, where Falun Gong is banned.
"He said, ‘I’ll beat you to death,’" Jiang said through an interpreter.
Liu used his phone to record the stranger’s threats and verbal abuse before the man flicked a lit cigarette in his face.
"It hurt," said Liu, who has lived in Canada for 11 years.
"There’s no reason for him to be so hateful against us," the husband and father said after viewing the video. "That’s really a tragedy."
The incident, which Liu reported to police, is part of the fallout from the Chinese government’s campaign to eradicate Falun Gong, Winnipeg researcher Maria Cheung said. The spiritual practice is outlawed in China. Even in Canada, its adherents have faced harassment, said Cheung, a professor of social work at the University of Manitoba and Falun Gong practitioner.
Cheung and Winnipeg-based human-rights lawyer David Matas are two of the co-authors of Cold Genocide: Falun Gong in China, published in the Genocide Studies and Prevention Journal in June. It describes patterns of a "cold genocide" in China, where Falun Gong has been targeted for eradication since 1999.
For more than a decade, Matas has researched China’s harvesting of organs from executed prisoners. He co-authored several reports on the forcible harvesting of Falun Gong members’ organs, including the book, Bloody Harvest: the Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs. The book was the basis for the 2015 Peabody Award-winning documentary Human Harvest, and Matas was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Unlike the "hot" genocide in Rwanda in 1994, with brutal violence taking place out in the open in a short space of time, a "cold" genocide is less noticeable and occurs slowly — similar to what happened to Indigenous Peoples, Cheung said.
"It becomes normalized."
It’s happening with prisoners of conscience, including Falun Gong members, in China, Cheung said. There are more than 165 hospitals in China licensed to perform organ transplants, and transplant tourism is thriving, with patients being offered organs within two weeks, Cheung said.
"People are asking, ‘Where are all these organs coming from when China has no organ-donation system?"
In Canada, there are two bills before Parliament that aim to punish individuals and hold them accountable for taking part in illegal organ transplants, Cheung said.
"If you get an organ from prisoners of conscience — people who were killed for their organs — then you become complicit when the law is passed," she said.
In recounting the recent incident in Winnipeg, Liu said he wants to remind Canadians human rights are fragile and need to be protected.
"We want to raise awareness that what we enjoy here — freedom of belief and religion — doesn’t exist in China."
He and Jiang want to speak out publicly, but are afraid to have more than their common Chinese names published in case they’re identified and relatives in China are targeted for speaking up. They’re also concerned the man who threatened them may be connected to the Chinese government.
Other Falun Gong members in Winnipeg recognized the man as someone who has harassed them as well, Liu said.
Winnipeg police confirmed they took a report about a "suspicious male and minor assault," spokeswoman Const. Tammy Skrabek said.
"The victim advised that he was reporting for information purposes only, and did not wish to pursue charges," she said in an email. "As such, we are not actively investigating the incident."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.