Article from German Magazine: Executions on Demand

More illegal organ trade occurs in China than in any other country. Falun Gong practitioners and imprisoned delinquents are used as living organ banks to obtain kidneys, livers and hearts for transplant recipients with money from abroad.

The men were wearing lab coats. They didn’t talk a whole lot and they weren’t as brutal as the others. One of them was wearing gloves. At every examination, he poked a needle into Liu Wei’s arm and took a vial of blood. The men showed up at regular intervals, sometimes even several times a month. They never explained why. At some point, Liu Wei stopped asking questions. Prisoners do not have rights in China anyway.

It was in the autumn. The room was square and the walls were bare and close together. It was cold. There was a window in the back wall. Light filtered through it but it was up so high that only a small piece of the sky was visible. Slowly, piece by piece we are learning about the gruesome details that happened inside the walls of the Chinese women’s labour camp and Liu Wei has found out by now that the doctors weren’t concerned about her health but were looking for victims to be killed.

Liu Wei was twenty nine years old and project manager at the offices of the German Company for Technical Collaborations (GTZ) in Beijing. Ever since she was young, she had been interested in Chinese gymnastics and meditation exercises. In 1995, one of her colleagues told her about the Falun Gong practice. Often, she met other Falun Gong practitioners and they meditated together.

One day, Liu Wei forgot some printed Falun Gong materials, which had just been blacklisted by the government, in the copy room of the GTZ offices. Only a few hours later, police came and interrogated her and all of her co-workers. On the next day, the police came back. They took her to a back room and asked her questions the whole day. In the evening, they took Liu Wei away.

She was interrogated for many hours while in detention. The young woman was tortured, humiliated and forced into brainwashing sessions. She never even got to see a lawyer or a judge. Her whole world was reduced to a tiny square surrounded by gray walls. At some point, Liu Wei even started to look forward to the doctor's visits. She didn't know then that her name had been added to a list of death candidates. She was young, strong, and healthy the ideal candidate for having her organs harvested. Liu Wei was lucky to survive.

Sujiatun hospital is outside of Shenyang, an industrial town in the Northeast of China. It is a grey, square, boxy construction with ornate gables and the sky is as grey as the plaza in front of it. A red flag flies over the entrance and a sign with golden lettering proclaims: “National Thrombosis Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine”. It is where our story starts. On March 17th 2006, Chinese language overseas newspaper The Epoch Times printed an astonishing article: A lady called Annie, who was married to a neurosurgeon at Sujiatun hospital told of her husband bringing home large sums of money. He often had nightmares and woke up drenched in sweat. Finally, her husband opened up to her and told her that the basement of the hospital housed a secret prison with thousands of inmates, all of them members of the forbidden Falun Gong movement. He told her that he had personally removed the corneas from thousands of the prisoners and that the Sujiatun hospital was treating the Falun Gong practitioners as a living organ bank.

The Epoch Times reported shocking details about the well-organised trade in organs taken from Chinese prisoners, almost exclusively Falun Gong practitioners, who had disappeared without trial into the closed basements of the Chinese justice system. After Annie broke through the silence, other newspapers picked up the story. Nevertheless, a few days later, the story disappeared from the media, as if nobody wanted to believe the shocking accusations. Just then, two Canadians, David Kilgour and David Matas entered the scene.

David Kilgour used to be a state prosecutor until entering politics in 1979 and advancing to Secretary of State at the Canadian foreign ministry. Early last year, the sixty six year old had retired from active politics and gone on a hiking trip to Africa, when he received an e-mail with a plea for help. After he returned, three Chinese individuals who introduced themselves as Falun Gong practitioners came to visit him. They talked about prison camps, executions on the operating table and organ trade for profit on a large scale. They accused China of selling organs to patients from the West, causing death to Falun Gong practitioners along the way. “They were shocked because the world did not want to believe their story,” said Kilgour. He promised to look into the allegations.

In the beginning, the Canadian was also sceptical. It was difficult to believe all of it said Kilgour, and we were terribly naive when we began our investigations. When he was a student in France, he had bought Mao's Red Book. While in France, he also met David Matas who later became a human rights lawyer in Winnipeg. Together they started to investigate the allegations.

Matas and Kilgour found hundreds of pieces of information. None of the individual pieces would have constituted either proof or disproof of the allegations. However, viewed as a whole, the true picture emerged. Two months later, Kilgour and Matas presented the first results of their investigations: they compiled a report of the most heinous crimes.

First, they found dozens of websites advertising organ transplantation from China. Some of them were run by agencies and transplant centres; others were official websites of state owned hospitals. All of the websites were directed at patients from abroad. For example, the ad for the China International Transplantation Network Assistance Centre website read: “It will probably take only one week to find a suitable (kidney) donor, but the maximal wait will be one month in case unexpected developments prevent the donor organ from arriving, the patient will be offered another donor, and the operation will occur within one week. The Oriental Organ Transplant Centre further stated: The average waiting period (for a suitable liver) is two weeks. The website of the Chang-zheng- hospital in Shanghai said: The average waiting period for a liver is one week for every patient. Such claims alone must raise suspicion, if we consider that patients in the West have to wait many years for suitable organs, although the donor lists are organised in a systematic way. The website of the China International Transplantation Network Assistance Centre further said: “Prior to a kidney transplant, we will check the donor’s kidney function. This is safer than in other countries, where organs are not taken from live donors.

According to Amnesty International, sixty eight separate crimes are punishable by death in China, including tax evasion and killing a panda bear. There is no other country on earth with as many executions. No official statistics on the number of executions in China exist. Human rights organisations estimate that it may be up to 10,000 a year. It has been known for a long time that China takes organs from executed prisoners. In 1998 two Chinese nationals were arrested in the US because they were trying to sell organs to an FBI agent. One of them introduced himself as the former state prosecutor of Hainan Province.

However, executions in China cannot account for the large number of transplant operations performed there. China has up to 20,000 transplant operations every year – only the US does more than that. Unlike other countries with transplant programmes, there is no organised system for organ donations in China. Where do all the organs come from, if there are no volunteer donors? What role do Falun Gong practitioners play?

The conflict between the Chinese government and the Falun Gong movement started to escalate on April 25th 1999. Thousands of practitioners had arrived and congregated on Chang’an Boulevard in front of the headquarters of the Chinese government. They sat on the broad pavements and meditated silently. The protest was completely silent without banners or bullhorns. It was an attempt to restore the good reputation of Falun Gong.
Beijing had not seen such a large demonstration since the student unrests in 1989. At the time, Falun Gong claimed to have more than 100 million adherents but the Chinese Communist Party could boast only sixty million. As the story goes, the former head of state and party chief, Jiang Zemin was watching the demonstration from the window of his car and got scared when he saw how many people had assembled in the heart of the government complex. It was the day Falun Gong was proclaimed to be the number one enemy of the Communist Party. Two months later, the group was prohibited and tens of thousands of followers disappeared into prisons and labour camps. “Hundreds, perhaps thousands died in police custody”, said a report of the US State Department. “If the Chinese government is willing to torture a large number of Falun Gong practitioners to death, it is not hard to believe that they would do the same thing by harvesting their organs” said the Kilgour and Matas report.

It is especially noteworthy that the number of transplant operations has sharply risen since the ethnic cleansing of Falun Gong has started. In 1999, only twenty two liver transplant centres were operating in China. By 2006, the number had risen to 500. The number of kidney transplant centres tripled between 2001 and 2005 to 368. The northern Chinese city of Tianjun started to build the Oriental Organ Transplant Centre in 2002. With fourteen floors and 300 beds, it is the largest transplant centre in Asia. The report of the two Canadians remarks that building new facilities exclusively for transplant operations implies that the Chinese authorities are confident about their future supply of organs from people who are alive today but will be dead soon. There simply is no other explanation: Falun Gong adherents who disappeared into prisons and labour camps form a living bank of organs to be sold abroad.

The business is profitable because there is a lot of demand from abroad. Eric De Leon’s experience illustrates this. He is from California and very healthy. However, this was different five years ago. After a routine exam, doctors found ‘irregularities’ but De Leon was not worried at first. He didn’t feel sick. He went for another check-up in 2005. Two days later, the phone rang and the doctor told him: “Please, come to the hospital, we have to talk.” He knew that something was wrong then. They did a lot of tests and an ultrasound. De Leon could see his liver clearly on the monitor and it had a grey spot on it. A tumor had spread and was already two centimetres wide. His only hope was a transplant. De Leon was put on a waiting list, along with 17,000 other Americans who were waiting for a liver that year. However, there were only 6,100 donors. What would happen to his two little children, Samantha and Dominic, if De Leon couldn’t get a new liver in time?

The American used the Internet and found the website He thought to himself: In China there are more people; it makes sense that there are more liver donors. He didn’t know about executions. De Leon got a mortgage on his house to finance the $110,000 operation in China. He was picked up by a translator in Shanghai. The operation took five hours. De Leon woke up with a new liver. The same night, four kidney and eight liver transplants were performed in the same hospital.

In the meantime, De Leon has recovered his good health. He will see his children grow up and can read to his daughter at bedtime many more times. He has written a book about his experiences to help other patients in the same situation. He is not distracted by many furious e-mails from around the world accusing him of cold-bloodedly supporting the execution industry. “What would you have done in my situation?” he asks. As long as there are donor organs on earth, there will be a black market for the illegal organ trade.

The Chinese government denies the allegations made by Kilgour and Matas in their report. “China strictly follows all of the applicable principles of the World Health Organisation dating from 1991 and has passed a resolution supporting human organ transplants according to which all transplants have to follow the principles of voluntary donation. Accordingly, it is a crime to take organs without the consent of the donor or against his will,” Zuo Wenxing from the Chinese Embassy in Canada wrote in a letter to the editor to the Ottawa Citizen. “Why hasn’t China done anything to dispel the accusations?” asked Kilgour.

In the meantime, there are signs that the situation is improving in China. In November of last year, the Vice Minister for Public Health, Huang Jiefu, admitted that death row prisoners were the most important source of organs in the Chinese transplant programme. “In addition to a small number of traffic accidents, the largest number of organs comes from the dead bodies of executed prisoners.” Huang criticized “business done under the table”, and said that too many organs are taken without consent and sold to people from abroad for profit.

For many years now, organ trading has been ostensibly prohibited in China. However, many laws passed by the Chinese central government are never enforced in the large and difficult to control backwater provinces. This is especially true for the health care system. Many hospitals in China are still controlled by the military and are run outside the purview of the authorities. The reason is that in 1985, reformist Deng Xiaoping left the economic privileges of the military intact. This further implies that military firms are lacking state sponsored financial support. Kilgour and Matas wrote that many of the transplant centres in China are military institutions being financed through organ transplant costs paid by the recipients and that the profits from the operations are sufficient to pay for the cost of the institution.

Many of the organ transplant websites have disappeared from the Internet in the meantime. South Korean newspapers reported in the spring that China had stopped its organ exports to the neighbouring country. However, the article also stated that the Koreans could still get transplants in China. The costs had increased appreciably and it seems that the supply of organs has shrunk a little.

Liu Wei now lives in Germany. She was released after the prison warden broke her will and Liu Wei agreed to stop practising Falun Gong. She was lucky and managed to obtain a passport because the police in her hometown, Benxi, never noticed that Liu Wei was registered in the files of the public security bureau as a Falun Gong practitioner. She has been studying architecture in Dortmund since 2004. Last year, she finished her basic training. In the evenings she practices her meditation exercises in her apartment again. On Sundays, she meets other Falun Gong practitioners on the meadow behind the main train station. Those who were not able to flee abroad are still living in fear.

This report is printed without naming the author because due to the political situation in China, it would threaten his safety and jeopardise his future work as a journalist.


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