Dec 24, 2011
An appeals court in Russia has held that writings by former Canadian MP David Kilgour and prominent human rights lawyer David Matas constitute banned extremist literature that “can create for the readers a negative image of China.”
As a result, both men could be subject to criminal prosecution if they were ever to go to Russia to discuss their investigations of organ harvesting against executed Falun Gong practitioners by Chinese authorities, which are detailed in two reports and a book, Bloody Harvest.
Their writings are also subject to seizure by police, under the October decision by a court in Krasnodar in southern Russia, upheld on appeal this week.
Mr. Matas, legal counsel to B’nai Brith Canada and a leading advocate for laws against extremist hate literature in Canada and abroad, said it is “ironic” that he should be found by a court to have written extremist literature himself.
Mr. Kilgour, who was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MP for Edmonton, and later sat as a Liberal and as an independent, is among the longest-serving parliamentarians.
The law in question, Article 13 of Russia’s federal law 114, “On Counteraction of Extremist Activities,” bans the distribution of any material that is aimed at a list of banned goals, including terrorism, subversion of Russian security, “the excitation of racial, national or religious strife” and “the abasement of national dignity.”
Violating the law can result in seizure of unsold materials, and any organization that does so twice in a year “shall be deprived of the right to carry on publishing activity.”
This case dates to 2008, when Russian followers of Falun Gong learned some of their writings, which had been on display in a Krasnodar park, were added to a list of extremist materials kept by the Russian justice ministry.
These materials included Mr. Kilgour and Mr. Matas’ “Report into allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China.” Their investigation, first released in 2006 and updated the next year, was the basis for Bloody Harvest, published in 2009.
Falun Gong, a style of meditation with a spiritual component, like yoga, has been banned for more than a decade in China, which regards it as a dangerous cult. In their reports, Mr. Kilgour and Mr. Matas allege that hundreds of thousands of practitioners have been arrested, and tens of thousands executed, after which their organs were harvested for sale to Chinese patients and even so-called “transplant tourists.”
In the opinion of one expert witness at the October trial, the Kilgour/Matas report includes “pronouncements which engender strife and dislike toward people who do not apply to this religious association (Falun Gong).” Another expert said the report “can create for the readers a negative image of China, its social and political system, representatives of authorities, medical workers, military, etc.”
A translation of the written judgment makes only passing reference to freedom of expression, and explicitly rejected arguments to the good character of Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour. Arguments “regarding the personality of Li Hongzhi, David Matas and David Kilgour, the work of the partnership itself and supporting evidence are considered non-substantial for the decision on the complaint. This is because the personality of the author or the activities of the partnership are not the subject of these court proceedings,” according to a translation of the judgment.
The Kilgour/Matas reports are banned in China, but this is the first time another country has taken such a drastic step. “It shuts down criticism of China within Russia,” Mr. Matas said.
There is a higher level of appellate court within Russia, after which the case could be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
Although neither Canadian was represented at the court, Mr. Matas wrote to the appeals court in advance of this week’s decision, arguing that “the Russian law on extremist literature was not meant to encompass investigative reports into allegations of wrongdoing where there is evidence in support of the conclusions of the investigation, where the conclusions are fairly arguable.”
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