CJ Werleman reviews a new Australian National University report, providing horrific new details of China’s abuse of political prisoners

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Arguably, the most outrageous human rights atrocity taking place in the world today is the forced removal of live organs from political prisoners in China – a criminal practice industrialised by the Chinese Government after carrying out the first known case of live organ harvesting in 1994, when authorities in Xinjiang removed the still-beating heart and kidneys from a Uyghur Muslim.

The oncology surgeon who was ordered to carry out the grisly operation is Dr Enver Tohti, who described to me the horrors he was forced to inflict upon the detainee.

“I was called by my chief surgeon to go to a room near the Urumqi execution grounds to remove the liver and two kidneys from an executed prisoner. It turned out he wasn’t fully dead because they [the Chinese execution squad] shot him through the right chest [intentionally] to knock him out [without killing him], so I would have time to remove his organs”.

This was an operation performed without administering the detainee with an anaesthetic drug, he said.

But despite Tohti’s testimony and that of many others, along with an array of independent investigations – including the UK-based Uyghur Tribunal, headed by British barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice, which concluded that forced organ harvesting in China constitutes “one of the worst atrocities committed in modern times” – the absence of official Chinese Government documents has denied human rights campaigners their long awaited ‘smoking gun’.

That is until now, with a newly released study conducted by Australian National University (ANU) claiming to have unearthed evidence that Chinese surgeons are executing death-row prisoners by removing their hearts before they are clinically dead, a criminal practice that improves the prospect of a successful organ transplant.

“We were shocked by what we found, not that it was happening,” said Matthew Robertson, the study’s co-author, in an interview last week. “We were surprised that the admissions were so blatant and clear, and that we actually found what we were looking for.”

After using an artificial intelligence algorithm to scan and analyse more than 120,000 published medical journal reports, the researchers found 71 “explicit” instances in which organ ‘donors’ had not been properly pronounced dead prior to the surgeries taking place. 

The 71 reports span a period of 35 years and include 35 hospitals, spread across 33 cities and 15 provinces, which is indicative of a practice that is systematic and widespread. Robertson described these findings as the “tip of the funnel” in the Chinese Government-sanctioned system.

“We had a suspicion that these admissions were in the database but to actually find them, again and again, was the surprising part,” Robertson said. “There were many other cases where it wasn’t as explicit. And in those cases, we just ditched them, because we wanted very clear evidence on the primary claim.”

Robertson’s co-author, Professor Jacob Lavee, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the findings, which have been reviewed with a “fine-tooth comb” by the editorial board at the esteemed American Journal of Transplantation, constitute a “smoking gun”, given they provide for “the first time testimonies made by people involved in their own language”.

The study was also reviewed by Professor Arthur Caplan, the head of medical ethics at New York University, who said that it provides “incontrovertible proof” of Chinese doctors removing vital organs from people who were not clinically dead.

Both Robertson and Lavee pointed to public health officials within the Chinese Government who have admitted that 95% of the organs used for transplantation come from prisoners, along with documentation that shows China had no voluntary organ donor system during the time when the 71 papers were published. 

An Unspeakable Horror

According to the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC), Uyghur Muslims and followers of Falun Gong – a religious spiritual practice banned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – are the prisoners most at risk.

Two years ago, as reported by Byline Times, a report published in the journal BMC Medical Ethics revealed what appears to be a concerted effort by the Chinese Government to cover up its criminal organ harvesting program by falsifying organ donation data. It suggests that more than 90,000 Muslims and other political prisoners are being executed each year for the purpose of profiting from the sale of their live organs.

“A variety of evidence points to what the authors believe can only be plausibly explained by systematic falsification and manipulation of official organ transplant datasets in China,” the report states. “Some apparently non-voluntary donors also appear to be misclassified as voluntary. This takes place alongside genuine voluntary organ transplant activity, which is often incentivised by large cash payment.”

The report also blows a hole in China’s claim to be carrying out only 10,000 “legal organ transplantations” per year, with researchers able to demonstrate the number of transplantations to be upwards of 100,000 per year, based on data obtained from the country’s three largest hospitals.

And whereas the Chinese Government claims that fewer than 100 hospitals are approved to carry out organ transplant operations, the researchers “verified and confirmed 712 hospitals which carry out liver and kidney transplants”.

The report’s authors conclude that the discrepancy between the CCP’s official figures and estimates made by researchers can only be attributed to a deliberate effort by the Chinese Government to hide what ETAC describes as an “elaborate cover-up that disguises the state-run mass murder of innocent people”.

China is the only country in the world that forcibly removes organs from executed prisoners for transplants. Robertson and Lavee’s study affirms what others have long claimed but in the words of the Chinese Government. This is an unspeakable horror, and one the international community must reckon with.

“As the son of a Holocaust survivor who was in a Nazi concentration camp, I cannot stand aside and remain silent when my professional colleagues, Chinese transplant surgeons, have for years been partners to a crime against humanity,” says Professor Lavee. We should all heed his words.


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