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“Canaries in a Cold War”: A Film on Torture, Rape, Organ Harvesting, and More

Three sisters’ accounts of their persecution at the hands of the CCP as Falun Gong practitioners, started James White on a quest to discover the truth about the long arm of the CCP across the world. credit: Bitter Winter
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Ruth Ingram | Bitter Winter

The search for inspiration for a human rights song becomes a dark quest for truth about China’s agenda for the world.

An innocent enough quest for inspiration for a new song to protest the Beijing Olympics ushered singer songwriter James H. White into a dark underworld of torture, abuse and what he began to realize was one of the biggest coverups of modern history.

“Evil” was the only word he could find to describe what he found.

Canaries in a Cold War,” the fruit of his year long odyssey into Beijing’s sordid catalogue of human rights violations against its own people, is a testimony to the courage of the victims, but also a warning to the international community of what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is capable of.

What started out as material for a song, became a harrowing documentary across two continents digging deep into the workings of the CCP. White discovered how its determination to snuff out every hint of opposition to its ideology has created a monster, willing to stop at nothing to serve its ends, including murder, torture and, compellingly, organ harvesting.

More sinister, White’s probe into the machinations of the CCP, caused him to realize that its ambitions are not confined to its own borders. Beijing’s eyes are on the world.

James H White, whose compelling documentary Canaries in a Cold War features the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners as a wake up call to the world.
James H White, whose compelling documentary “Canaries in a Cold War” features the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners as a wake up call to the world.

White’s journey started with the story of three Falun Gong practitioner sisters in Washington DC, introduced to him by a friend. They all made it out of China alive, but not without undergoing unspeakable torture and years of campaigning by the first sister who escaped, to retrieve her sisters who had only made it as far as Thailand before being imprisoned.

We heard how until 1999, the Falun Gong movement, which proposed an exercise and self-cultivation practice based on qigong, was celebrated by the CCP for its health benefits. Its growth to 100 million followers however set alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power, and President Jiang Zemin ordered a merciless crackdown. The CCP and its leader are above the law, commented former political prisoner in China and journalist, Peter Humphrey, interviewed by White, explaining that Jiang’s kudos would have soared incrementally to the extent that his strike hard campaign was successful.

The three sisters, now safely in exile, with no access to lawyers or a trial, had been hung from their arms with feet barely touching the floor and stretched on a “dead man’s bed,” after which walking is unbearable. Fellow inmates were shocked with electric batons, force fed with tubes, and made to sit continuously on a low hard stool for days. Other women were put into a male prison to be gang raped.

A reenactment of a torture inflicted on the three sisters, interviewed by James White for his documentary.
A reenactment of a torture inflicted on the three sisters, interviewed by James White for his documentary.

A London tribunal set up from 2018–2019 to hear evidence of forced organ harvesting in China, heard witness statements from survivors, also corroborated by two of the three sisters, of systematic medical checks, too rigorous for anything other than to assess the suitability of prisoners’ organs for transplant.

Hamid Sabi, counsel for the Tribunal, interviewed for “Canaries,” spoke of his “sadness” that “very highly educated, skilled, medical practitioners,” were complicit. “And they must have known what they were doing,” he said.

“At one point they had over 2 million Falun Gong practitioners in the camps and next to every camp was a hospital,” he said, explaining that every witness without exception had had substantial amounts of blood taken from them every three months. “When a tourist came for an organ, they matched their request with the data bank, took the prisoner, and transplanted the organ into the recipient,” he said.

Denying complicity in silencing the mountain of evidence against China, the British Foreign Office repudiated accusations that it ordered the pulling of a Newsnight exposé of the scandal on the day of the Tribunal judgement, according to Sir Geoffrey Nice, head of the panel. “It was shocking the Foreign Office would take this step,” he said.

But the UK’s foreign office is small fry compared to the extent of China’s reach beyond its borders, discovered White, whose interviews brought to light billions of dollars of US media collusion, vested interests with high stakes corporations in cahoots with the CCP, and international collaboration.

Benedict Rogers, co-director of Hong Kong Watch, speaking to James White about the erosion of democracy on the island.
Benedict Rogers, co-director of Hong Kong Watch, speaking to James White about the erosion of democracy on the island.

Benedict Rogers of Hong Kong Watch observed the CCP’s readiness to tear up treaties and trample mercilessly on human rights it had signed up to, in the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong. “This is very concerning for the free world,” said Rogers. “If we allow them to do that to Hong Kong, I don’t think they’ll stop there,” he said, a sentiment reiterated by the three sisters. “People don’t understand that today the CCP is carrying our organ harvesting on the Falun Gong. Maybe in the future they will do it around the world,” said Chunling.

Ethan Gutmann, who presented his research on organ harvesting at the London Tribunal, interviewed hundreds of victims for his research. He considers the tactics refined on Falun Gong had been a prelude to what is being wreaked on other groups of people.” After that, they went to Tibet and now they are being unleashed on the Uyghurs,” he said. “It’s not just one group of people.”

Ethan Gutmann, researcher into organ harvesting in China, deep in conversation with James White for his documentary.
Ethan Gutmann, researcher into organ harvesting in China, deep in conversation with James White for his documentary.

David Matas, whose pioneering work on the organ harvesting scandal was also presented at the Tribunal, agreed that the abuse has spread to the Uyghurs. “And the CCP would be more than happy to have it spread elsewhere,” he said, citing the COVID-19 debacle that he sees as a metaphor for the Party’s future plans for humankind, essentially built on coverups and lies.

Marco Respinti, director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, was concerned that under the CCP’s one party system, not simply minority groups, but any religious group is perceived as a ideological competitor. “All religions have been persecuted in China since 1949,” he said. “They very quickly become the enemy and should be eradicated as soon as possible.”

Marco Respinti is also featured in the film.
Marco Respinti is also featured in the film.

During the course of his investigations, White was shocked to realize that the CCP, instead of marching towards democracy, is now deeply embedded and transmitting its own dogma throughout our societies. “Emboldened by Western capital and innovation, it is slowly turning our own system against us,” he said, realizing that any attempt to reform the CCP, backfires. “It simply ends up with the CCP reforming us.”

With impunity, the long arm of the CCP reaches well beyond its borders, determined to rein in dissent and criticism. From sanctions to Tribunal members, politicians and even nations that dare to flex their muscles, to hapless exiles trying to make a new life who are assaulted, kidnapped, hounded, and even assassinated, Freedom House detailed 600 cases, estimated at just the tip of the iceberg, of diaspora members who, with their relatives back in the homeland, are never left in peace. “They feel the presence constantly,” reported Sarah Cook, research director of Freedom House.

Under the weight of these revelations, John White’s Olympic song was gone. With the realization that the dream of centrally organized utopia is alive and well under the CCP, he hopes that in some measure his film might alert the world to what is happening under their noses.

“We haven’t listened so far despite 20 years of warnings,” he concludes. “Now the threat is here on our doorstep knocking.”

“Freedom isn’t free. It never has been,” he says, adding his hope that “no matter how dark the CCP looms over our country, with faith and resilience there’s a way forward.”

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