Thousands have since been detained, tortured and killed. Advocates say the bodies of dead Falun Gong practitioners remain the key source of organs for the booming domestic trade in illegal transplants. But there are signs that actions by foreign governments, and by authorities in Beijing, are beginning to improve matters.
Presenter: Linda Mottram, Canberra Correspondent
Yue Chang Zhi, Falun Gong practitioner; David Matas, Canadian human rights lawyer and author
MOTTRAM: Yue Chang Zhi is 70 years old, a diminutive but vocal Falun Gong practitioner. She endured four years in a labour camp because of her adherance to the spiritual movement's practices .. she says she was tortured there by Chinese authorities.
YUE: In the labour camp they tried to forcefully transform her and she would not give up truthfulness, compassion, forbearance, so they wouldn't let her sleep, they wouldn't let her bath, and in the end she still resisted so they started beating her.
MOTTRAM: Truthfulness, compassion and forbearance is the Falun Gong mantra and Yue Chang Zhi held out against what she says was pressure to denounce it.
She says on one occasion - the 18th of March 2004 - she was tortured for six consecutive hours, beaten and bashed until her spine was broken in two places. She was eventually released, but continued campaigning, online, attracting official attention again, until she was granted asylum in Australia in March this year.
At a small demonstration on the lawns outside the Australian Parliament, several dozen practitioners demonstrated the exercise regime that is the core of Falun Gong. Others held up large posters with shocking images associated with alleged illegal organ harvesting by China. Yet more Falun Gong adherents donned Chinese military uniforms or had makeup applied for a graphic demonstration of some of the techniques they say Chinese officials use against their colleagues in detention.
David Matas is a Canadian human rights lawyer who advocates on behalf of Falun Gong. Armed with a new book called "Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for their organs", he's been briefing Australian politicians and will speak this week at an Asia Pacific human rights conference in Sydney. While he says there's still a long way to go for Falun Gong in China, there've been dramatic changes in the Chinese organ transplant market overall, since the issues were first raised in 2007.
MATAS: Transplant tourism into China has more or less stopped partly because of foreign efforts and partly because of Chinese efforts. The Chinese government in July 2007 said that they would give priority to Chinese customers. But other governments have reacted as well. The Israeli government used to finance transplant into China and they stopped the financing. The Taiwanese used to allow brokerrs and have charters into China and that's all stopped. Australia used to allow training for Chinese transplant doctors in Australian hospitals and that's stopped. So what we see in China now is a shift in the patient market. But you don't see a decrease in the volumes of transplants in fact if anything the volume has gone up. But what you do see is a decrease in the only other sorts besides Falun Gong death penalty. So the sourcing from Falun Gong has increased.
MOTTRAM: As well China has set up a registration system for hospitals permitted to undertake transplants. That doesn't include military hospitals which are said to be a big part of the problem. But its a big shift from what David Matas calls the "anything goes" capitalism that saw hospitals, even the Peoples Liberation Army, forced to go into whatever business they could to get funds.
MATAS: When we first started, the official Chinese response all our organs come from voluntary donations but now they acknowledge that's not the case, instead they acknowledge they pretty well all come from prisoners. So the debate between them and us is which sort of prisoners.
MOTTRAM: David Matas also says countries like Australia should be more vocal about China's persecution of Falun Gong.
MATAS: I've met with many foreign affairs bureacucrats around the world who say that they raise the issue privately in bilateral talks but that doesn't have the same impact as raising the matter publicly would do.
MOTTRAM: Chinese authorities appear no less paranoid about Falun Gong than when they banned the movement ten years ago. But as China grows economically and looks to position itself as a good international citizen, the pressure over at least some critical human rights issues appears to be having an impact.