Dr. Huige Li, Professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University Medical Center in Germany, is an expert on this plague. His testimonies unfold a nightmare. He recounts it to Bitter Winter.
Transplant abuse in China continues despite claims of reform: it is as horrible and as simple as that, and this is the title of a more than 300-page report published in July 2018 by the praiseworthy China Organ Harvest Research Center (COHRC); it has not grown old yet, unfortunately.
One of the pillars upon which the gruesome and totalitarian Communist China’s regime rests is the forcible and unlawful explant of organs from targeted individuals and ethnic or religious groups. Sometimes while prisoners are still alive. This is to say that in the progressive and enlightened, evolved and advanced world we live in, there are still human sacrifices consumed on the altar of a monstrous atheistic and illiberal Moloch. Even more outrageous is that the rest of the world knows it ‒ or at least it does have the possibility to know it, thanks to a mint of published documents, expertise, reports, and investigations, more often than not freely and fully available online ‒ and still it normally deals and trades politically and economically with the bloodied hands of the guilty.
This horrendous practice is well proved by sound research. The great names who have been working relentlessly and painstakingly in this field to give voice to the real voiceless and to the unsung victims of this depravity are people like Mr. David Matas (an international human rights lawyer, author and researcher based in Winnipeg, Canada, who currently acts as Senior Honorary Counsel for B’nai Brith Canada), Mr. David Kilgour (a former Canadian cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, prosecutor, lawyer, author, columnist and human rights advocate), who are both Nobel Peace Prize nominees. Together they have authored Bloody Harvest: Revised Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China, commonly known as the “Kilgour & Matas Report;” it was released in 2007 and updated in 2008, and is available also in Chinese as血淋淋的器官摘取: 关于指控中共摘取法轮功学员器官的独立调查报告修订版. With Mr. Ethan Gutmann (a London-based China analyst and human-rights investigator) they have founded the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC).
Dr. Torsten Trey, the founder and executive director of the medical ethics advocacy group, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, DAFOH, is also among those who lead the global movement against forced organ harvesting in China. He has contributed to Bitter Winter on the topic. Mr. Trey also edited an important collection of essays, An Unprecedented Evil Persecution: A Genocide Against Goodness in Humankind (Clear Insight Publishing, 2016), with Ms. Theresa Chu, an international human rights lawyer based in the US. Bitter Winter has met her in Taipei, Taiwan, in March, at the event “A Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region,” intended as a follow-up to the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom organized by the US Department of State in Washington, D.C. She was with Dr. Willie Huang, vice chairperson of the Taiwan Association for International Care of Organ Transplants, which made possible the English translation of the mentioned book, published originally in Chinese by Broad Press Inc. of Taipei in 2015, 前所未有的邪惡迫害─滅絕人類的善性.
Moreover, among the best and leading world experts of the unlawful and immoral exploitation of human organs by the Chinese regime we must count for sure Dr. Huige Li, Professor of Pharmacology at the Johannes Gutenberg University Medical Center in Mainz, Germany, the author of numerous scientific publications and a recent witness at the China Tribunal hearings. This is an independent people’s tribunal, established in London, Great Britain, to inquire into forced organ harvesting from, amongst others, prisoners of conscience in China. Bitter Winter has covered its activities on different occasions.
While the staggering topic of human harvesting has been importantly presented at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July 2018 and debated in the British parliament in March this year ‒ and this is a good advancement, indeed, ‒ much more remains to say and to do. Bitter Winter has therefore discussed it with Prof. Li, starting from a now famous 2014 documentary, Human Harvest, (活摘), directed by Vancouver, Canada, filmmaker Leon Lee, which follows the investigative work of aforementioned Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour.
The movie Human Harvest ‒ readers can see the trailer on YouTube and can rent a full screening on Vimeo ‒ is now pretty famous. Yet many people are not familiar with it. Can you briefly outline its content to the benefit of our readers?
Human Harvest is a documentary film by the Flying Cloud Productions that has won the Peabody Award and other awards. The film started with stories of Taiwanese patients who went to Mainland China and got organ transplants within weeks. China had no organ donation system before 2010, and Chinese officials claimed that the organs came from executed prisoners. However, the number of executions were far too low to explain the performed transplantations, not to mention the extreme short waiting time that is unique in the world. The investigations by Mr. David Matas, Mr. David Kilgour, and other human rights activists reveal that the organs were mainly from prisoners of conscience in extrajudicial killings – a crime that began in 2000. The victims are mostly practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement persecuted in China since 1999.
You are featured in one version of that movie. What is the role you played in the research on which it is based?
In 2016, the German-language television network, 3sat, produced a German version of Human Harvest under the title Ausgeschlachtet. Organe auf Bestellung, meaning “Cannibalized: Organs on Order.” For this version, 3sat interviewed me and integrated my statements into the German-dubbed footage. This German version was, in fact, a reproduction by 3sat. My contribution was to explain the situation in China: for example, why not all the organs from executions could be used for transplantation. But the main message of the film remained the same; it was mainly based on the investigation of Matas and Kilgour.
For years, the bloodshed of human harvesting targeted specifically the Falun Gong movement. While we know that the same horror is now impacting on other communities, when the movie was released, Falun Gong practitioners were still by far its privileged victims. Why the Falun Gong?
It’s the brutal persecution of that movement by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in itself that makes the whole crime of human harvesting possible. Why was Falun Gong persecuted? The 2017 Freedom House report puts it right: it is the CCP’s battle for China’s spirit. Falun Gong was the single biggest religious group growing very fast after the Cultural Revolution. That’s why Falun Gong became a target of the CCP. The campaign to wipe out the movement started in the 1990s when the Internet was not so widely used as today, and people in China had only limited access to independent information. Therefore, the anti-Falun Gong propaganda by the CCP could be so effective that many Chinese believed that Falun Gong practitioners deserved to be killed. Some doctors involved in the organ crime may even think that they are doing good things: eliminating the enemy and, at the same time, helping patients with the organs of the enemy.
It’s heinous. Why the CCP fears the Falun Gong?
The CCP fears not only Falun Gong. It fears every group if it is big and growing, especially religious groups. Nowadays, also, Christians are increasingly persecuted in China just because their number is rising rapidly.
What is the situation of the Falun Gong in China today? How many people remain? And outside China?
Despite the brutal persecution, Falun Gong has survived in China. Freedom House estimates the minimum number of people in China practicing Falun Gong today in the range of 7 to 10 million, while overseas Falun Gong sources have estimated that the total is 20 to 40 million. The persecution by the CCP in China has, in fact, accelerated the growth of Falun Gong outside China. Falun Gong has now been spread to over 100 countries and Zhuan Falun, the main book of the movement, has been published in 40 languages.
The CCP created a special law enforcement body to investigate and repress the banned and forbidden religions that the regime considers “non-religion” and labels xie jiao. It is the notorious Office 610. Even if now discontinued, with its functions transferred to other state agencies, it has played a major role in the forced organs explant of prisoners of conscience.
Before officially launching its campaign against Falun Gong, the CCP created a “Central Leading Group to handle the Falun Gong issue,” under which an “Office of the Leading Group to handle the Falun Gong issue” was established. It is internally known as Office 610, deriving its name from the date of its founding, June 10, 1999. It is described in Chapter VII of Transplant Abuse in China Continues Despite Claims of Reform, the COHRC 2018 report. With a structure extending from top to bottom throughout the Party, government, and military, Office 610 was given the power to command all police and judicial organs. It took a key role in enabling the procurement of organs from Falun Gong practitioners on-demand. Recent investigations by South Korean journalists in 2017, by BBC and others in 2018 reveal that the waiting time for organs in China remains in the range of days to weeks. Such an organ on-demand system is only possible with a large living organ pool. This means that the state-sanctioned organs crime is still running, and without Office 610 and its successors, this is not possible.
I have always been shocked by the high number of death sentences performed on prisoners of conscience every year in China. World-famous organizations, like Amnesty International, point out that we really don’t know how many of them are performed yearly since that number is a classified state secret. For sure, though, we can count them by the thousands. Is there any correlation between the numbers of performed death sentences yearly in China on prisoners of conscience and the amounts of organs requested by the international trafficking of human body parts?
We must distinguish two different types of prisoners: prisoners sentenced to death and prisoners of conscience. The Chinese government claimed that before 2010, organs for transplantation came mainly from executed prisoners sentenced to death. Yet the number of death-row executions, even the highest estimated number, is too low to explain the number of the performed transplants. The number of transplantations has even continued to grow after 2007, when official executions declined. Therefore, the majority of organs don’t come from prisoners sentenced to death, but from extrajudicial killings of prisoners of conscience without legally sentenced to death.
The Chinese regime says that human harvesting belongs to the past and is now over. They say they stopped it in 2015. Is this true?
China first admitted organ harvesting from executed death-row prisoners in 2005. Ten years later, it announced to stop using prisoner organs after 2015. However, this announcement was not accompanied by any changes to organ donation laws or regulations. China officials also planned to integrate prisoner organs into the voluntary donation system in order to count these as voluntary donations from citizens. Some colleagues and I have analyzed the semantic trick that they use. Until now, China has not admitted the organ harvesting practice from prisoners of conscience.
You mentioned the voluntary donation programs. Can these programs really cope with the number of requested organs?
The Chinese regime claims that, after 2015, all organs for transplantations come from voluntary donations. This, however, cannot be true.
Let’s compare the official numbers from China with those from the US in 2017. The US has about 130 million registered organ donors that generated about 5,000 actual deceased organ donors. Another 5,000 donors were not registered patients who died in the Intensive Care Units (ICU). Even with these 10,000 deceased organ donors, the median wait time for a kidney transplant was 3.6 years in the US in 2017.
At the end of 2017, China had only 373,536 registered donors. The number was too low to be relevant. Chinese official claimed that they had 5,146 voluntary deceased donors in 2017, mainly from ICU. This is questionable. If people don’t want to register themselves as organ donors, how can the organ donation rate be so high in the ICU? A recent study used forensic statistical methods to examine the organ donation datasets from 2010 to 2018 in China and found evidence of systematic falsification and manipulation.
Even if the number of 5,146 voluntary donations were true, it could perhaps explain the official number of 15,000 transplantations, but it could never explain the short waiting time of days to a week (as I said earlier). This short waiting time is only possible with a large living organ pool and with “donors” that can be harvested on-demand.
The international trafficking of human organs is very rewarding in terms of money. Did – and does – the Chinese government positively count on this rich gain?
The hospitals benefit directly from the organ trade. The government benefits indirectly. “Rich” hospitals require less financial support from the government.
Today, other groups beyond Falun Gong, especially Uyghur Muslims (who are now being also DNA profiled) and The Church of Almighty God, a new and fast-growing Christian religious movement, are targeted for organ explants. Why?
These are also vulnerable groups in China, and the current situation is very serious. Fortunately, China’s organ harvesting practice is now widely known, and the international attention is quite high. These are factors that make the situation for these groups a little bit better than that for Falun Gong in the 2000s. Intensive reporting by international media and human rights groups may hopefully prevent these groups from being systematically harvested by the CCP. Therefore, it is very important for the international community to maintain pressure on China.
In February 2017, Mr. Huang Jiefu (now president of the National Organ Donation and Transplantation Committee in China and former deputy minister of Health in China) was invited to speak at a conference on organ trafficking, organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences. This impressed many, and it drives me to an important question. Beijing regime tends to say that forced explants of human organs were (are) not ordered by the Chinese regime itself, but by some “private” people and companies. This excuse is also used trying to accuse others and play innocent. We all of course know that in China, everything is controlled by the state, and that there is nothing like a “private” sector to deal with this kind of things. Can we document that the real performer of this horrible bloodshed is the regime itself, i.e., CCP and state/government?
With the announced 2015 reform, China has created a false impression. Through it, China has gained recognition and endorsement from international organizations. Many academic institutions and companies have renewed their collaboration with the Chinese transplant industry without verification of the real situation.
The organ crime in China is different from that in any other countries. The short waiting time for organs doesn’t occur just in one or two hospitals here and there, but in almost all hospitals of the country: it is not at single time points, but consistent and constant from the 2000s to today. There must be a system behind it. “Private” criminal groups cannot supply such a high number of organs realizing an organ on-demand system. It is only possible with the support of the state.
Moreover, there are investigations into high ranking officials of the Chinese regime. The results of these investigations, although remaining to be verified by third parties, suggest that the former CCP leader Jiang Zemin had ordered the harvesting of organs from Falun Gong and that the CCP Political and Legal Affairs Committee, including the Office 610, had played key roles in this crime (see IV. Phone Calls in Chapter VIII of the COHRC 2018 report).
Is it true that organs were (are) explanted also from prisoners who in some cases were (are) not even dead to have fresher organs?
A core ethical principle in the transplantation of vital organs is the “dead donor rule,” which stipulates that organ donors must be dead prior to procurement and that the procurement itself must not cause the death of the donor. However, evidence shows that many organs were excised in China from living bodies that were killed in the process. This is the so-called “live organ harvesting” practice. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the organs are procured from conscious individuals without anesthesia. It means that the so-called “donors” are alive (either under anesthesia or not) at the starting time point of chirurgical organ procurement. Based on available evidence, in my statement submitted to the China Tribunal, I have classified the live organ harvesting practice in China into four categories:
Type 1 is organ harvesting from prisoners incompletely executed by shooting. This happened during the execution of prisoners by shooting. There were well-documented cases in which the gunshot was deliberately fired to the right chest instead to the head of the prisoners. The purpose was to maintain blood circulation for organ harvesting in order to improve organ quality. In such cases, organs were harvested from the still-living bodies without anesthesia (see our publication in BMC Medical Ethics).
Type 2 is organ harvesting from prisoners after lethal injection. In China, death is pronounced within tens of seconds after starting the lethal injection. At this stage, however, neither the common criteria for cardiopulmonary death nor that of brain death are met. Organ procurement from prisoners after lethal injection is performed under a condition that the prisoners are still alive (see our publication in Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics).
Type 3 is execution by organ explant. This is very likely the situation how prisoners of conscience are harvested. Without a death sentence, an execution (as in Type 1 or Type 2) before organ procurement from prisoners of conscience is not necessary. Therefore, organ procurement from prisoners of conscience is almost always live organ harvesting because killing the prisoners before organ harvesting would otherwise decrease the organ quality. The organs are harvested from living bodies, very likely under anesthesia, just like during a normal operation – with the only difference that the removal of the vital organs leads to the death of the prisoner. There is a report in a Chinese medical journal describing such a procedure (see our analyses).
Type 4 is organ harvesting under the pretext of brain death. In a variety of Chinese medical papers, the transplant organs were claimed to be from “brain-dead donors,” while the organ procurement processes indicated otherwise. In these cases, it was clear that a brain death determination was not performed because the donors were not on ventilators (thus no apnea test performed) before organ procurement. Moreover, in some of these cases, the organ procurement procedure indicates unmistakably that the heart of the donor was functioning. This means that the condition of these donors neither met the criteria of brain death nor that of cardiac death – the organs were harvested from living bodies (see meeting abstract P107B).
In which year did the human harvesting start, and when, specifically, the practice of live harvesting?
The history of live organ harvesting in China is almost as long as that of China’s transplant medicine itself. The very first well-documented case of live organ harvesting from a political prisoner happened on April 30, 1978. The victim was Zhong Haiyuan, a female school teacher. More cases of live organ harvesting from political prisoners were reported in Xinjiang in the 1990s. However, it is only after 2000 that live organ harvesting became a systematic practice in China.
It is of course very hard to tell, but are there any figures, or estimates, of this bloodshed? How many people in total have been abused and killed for harvesting their organs? How many per year? How many Falun Gong practitioners within that total number?
It is indeed difficult to estimate exactly the number because of the non-transparency of China. But what is sure is that the official figure of 10,000 transplants each year markedly understates the real volume. In 2006, it has been reported that about 1,000 South Korean patients went to China for transplantation each year. The total number of foreign patients receiving organ transplants in China (the so-called transplant tourism) in 2006 was reported to be more than 11,000. Therefore, the real volume of transplants (those for foreign and inland patients combined) is very likely in the range of tens of thousands each year, with the majority of organs coming from Falun Gong practitioners.
Recently, a world-first study has called for the mass retraction of more than 400 scientific papers on organ transplantation, amid fears that organs were obtained unethically from Chinese prisoners. What do you think of this?
This publication shows that the international community has failed to comply with its own ethical standard. Unfortunately, many organizations and societies have not realized that transplant abuse in China represents a serious problem and severe human rights violations.
Starting from December 2018, China Tribunal has investigated the crimes of the CCP regime. The Tribunal published an unusual and staggering interim judgment and its final sentence is due in days. They heard many witnesses and gathered a lot of evidence. You have testified before it. Do you mind sharing that experience with our readers?
The China Tribunal was initiated by the ETAC, an international not-for-profit, non-governmental charitable organization consisting of a coalition of lawyers, academics, ethicists, medical professionals, researchers, and human rights advocates dedicated to ending forced organ harvesting in China.
The aim of the Tribunal is to investigate what criminal offenses, if any, have been committed by state or state-approved bodies/organizations/individuals in China that may have engaged in forced organ harvesting.
As explained by Prof. Wendy Rogers, Chair International Advisory Committee of ETAC, “The Tribunal is a warranted response to sustained and highly credible allegations concerning killing of prisoners of conscience for their organs in China. In order to address alleged crimes of this magnitude, the international community requires robust legal analysis concerning the liability of state or state-approved bodies/organizations in China that have engaged in forced organ harvesting. The Tribunal will provide this analysis, along with a transparent and permanent record of the evidence of forced organ harvesting.”
Since March 2018, the Tribunal has evaluated hundreds of documents, including the reports by David Matas, David Kilgour, Ethan Gutmann, and that of the China Organ Harvest Research Center. The Tribunal invited dozens of experts, witnesses, and relatives of victims and held three full-day hearings from December 8 to 10, 2018. China was also invited but refused to participate. On December 10 (Human Rights Day), the Tribunal announced its Interim Judgement: “The Tribunal’s members are all certain – unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt – that in China, forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims.”
It is time to take action. It is no longer appropriate to look away!