Thursday, June 29, 2006

Asylum: From Pillar To Post And Back (2006)

From the forthcoming July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not good news for Chu Hua ('At the Bottom of the Heap', February Socialist Standard). She came from China hoping for asylum but her application was turned down and she was forbidden to find a job or claim benefit, which reduced her to living off friends or getting involved in something illegal -  like selling counterfeit DVDs. That was why she appeared in court, threatened with a prison sentence -  which probably persuaded her to take her chances elsewhere by going on the run.

This is where the bad news begins. On 28 May the Crown Court at Guildford sent a 34 year old man called Ling Cheng to prison for six months. Like Chu Hua, he is a rejected asylum seeker from China and, again like her, his offence - for the fourth time - was selling counterfeit DVDs. This case highlighted the uncomfortable fact that the manufacture and selling of illegal DVDs is dominated by organised gangs of Chinese. Gangs which make money in ways which are illegal - in the sense that they don't actually conform to the type of theft and extortion which capitalism thrives on - often assert their territorial or commercial integrity with extreme violence. In other words anyone who does not do as they say or who tries to muscle in on their territory is liable to be subjected to organised punishment beating or even killings. Chu Hua would be desperately vulnerable to that - it was not why she came to England.

Worse news for Chu Hua was that when Ling Cheng was in court there was already an order that he should be deported back to China (although luckily for him the Chinese government had refused to take him, which means he had avoided a fate even worse than trying to scrape a livelihood in England out of nothing). If Chu Hua were also sent back to China she could well be tortured or executed. Her asylum application was based on the fact that she is a member of the Fa Lun Gong cult, which the Chinese government regards as dangerously subversive of their style of capitalism and of the discipline they need to impose on their workers if that country is to maintain its bid to become one of the great competitors of world capitalism. This is why members of Fa Lun Gong have been imprisoned, beaten and killed.

As if this is not menacing enough for Chu Hua, there has recently been some news about the Chinese government's keen interest in the profit prospects of the international trade in human organs -  and the lengths they are willing to go to in order to get a slice of the market. There is a world shortage of some transplant organs and plenty of desperately sick people who will pay a great deal for one. A kidney costs around u35,000, a heart about u80,000. Among the organisations which openly advertise their wares there are transplant centres in China running websites which promise to supply most organs quickly - a kidney can be had within four weeks, some viscera almost immediately. Perhaps the people whose lives depend on a quick transplant will not ask themselves too many searching questions about the origins of the organ they are buying and why it should be available so quickly. For them, a recent statement by the British Transplant Society should have made disturbing reading:
"an accumulating body of evidence suggests that the organs of executed prisoners are being removed for transplantation without the prior consent of either the prisoner or their family."

Professor Stephen Wigmore, who is chairman of the British Transplant Society's ethics committee, has referred to "a reported close relationship between transplant units and the authorities regulating executions and the availability of organs" in China and says that "The weight of evidence has accumulated to a point over the last few months where it's really incontrovertible in our opinion". He told BBC Radio Five Live that the speed with which patients and donors in China are matched must imply that prisoners were being selected before execution to give up their organs. Motoring enthusiasts may see some similarities between this and their expectation of popping down to the local breaker's yard to buy a salvaged part for a damaged car.

The government of China lays claim to it being a socialist country. Leaving aside the fact that this is a contradiction in terms, the truth is that that country exhibits some of the crueller, more repressive characteristics of life under capitalism. It is common for prisoners in China to be subjected to the humiliation and terror of a public sentencing rally. Of all the countries where the death sentence operates China is easily the most active; according to Amnesty International 3,400 people were executed there in 2005 - about 90 per cent of the total world wide. (Iran was in second place, a long way behind with 160). The number of executions in China can only be estimated as it is an official state secret. Some judge it to be far higher than Amnesty, for example one delegate at the National People's Congress put the figure nearer 10,000. In addition there is an unusually wide definition of capital crime, encompassing corruption and repeat instances of minor, or attempted, offences.

That definition also includes membership of the Fa Lun Gong, which the Chinese government is trying to wipe out. Supporters of the Fa Lun Gong say that members of the cult have been held at a labour camp near a town called Shenyang before being put to death so that their organs could be sold. It was to escape this kind of terror that Chu Hua made her way to England and eventually to the court where she was under threat of imprisonment for selling those DVDs - an offence which in China would almost certainly have resulted in her being executed. She went on the run from the court a few months ago and seems to be still at large. Perhaps she decided that after all she would be better off back in China. Either way it is not good news for her or for the people of the world, who are capable of organising human affairs much better than this.