Researchers Unravel Horrors in China- Five years on, forced organ harvesting continues
Posted by Author on March 15, 2011
The story was hard to stomach— gruesome, at the very least. What started as a rumor, however, would later unfold into a campaign of brutality and horror perpetrated by the Chinese regime.
International human rights lawyer David Matas was in his office when the story broke in March 2006. It flowed into his e-mail box along with the flood of human rights updates he reads daily.
It told the story of a woman under the pseudonym “Annie,” whose husband suffered nightmares, as he suffered for the terror he had inflicted on more than 2,000 people.
Annie said her husband, a surgeon, was employed by the Chinese regime to remove the corneas from living Falun Gong practitioners, slicing their eyes open with his scalpel while they were still alive. The rest of their organs were also stripped from their bodies, all to feed a market of illicit organ trade.
When he told his wife, Annie, what he was doing, she left him and escaped to the United States to reveal the ongoing crime.
Matas had reservations with regard to the news, although he said “I knew enough about the Falun Gong to know they are being persecuted, so it occurred to me that it might be true,” in a phone interview from a Geneva hotel.
The story faded into the back of his mind until two months later. Matas and was asked to investigate the allegations alongside former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgour.
“I knew this was a difficult issue to assess,” Matas said. “When I began I had no idea whether the allegation was true or false, but I knew from my experience in the human rights world that it would be difficult to find somebody else to look at it.”
Investigating claims that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is systematically harvesting organs from living Falun Gong practitioners would be difficult. They could not interview victims since they were all killed, there were no bodies because they are cremated, and the Chinese regime does not allow human rights defenders to operate within its borders.
Matas described it as “an evidentiary conundrum,” yet his daily work of trying to prove or disprove claims by refugees gave him a place to start. “I deal with people who come with the clothes on their back and a story,” he said.
Kilgour and Matas, though, got to work and were able to find 51 evidentiary trails that led them to conclude the allegations were true. “Seeing that this is happening to a large number of innocent citizens in China in the twenty-first century, that just horrified me,” said Kilgour, in a phone interview from Canada.
Their evidence included phone calls to hospitals where individuals posed as Americans interested in buying organs from Falun Gong practitioners, and hospital staff consequently volunteered having organs available from practitioners.
China claims it gets its organs from executed prisoners, but Kilgour and Matas found discrepancies between the number of reported executions and the number of transplants. They concluded that Falun Gong practitioners were the most likely source for 41,500 transplant operations conducted between 2000 and 2005.
They published their first report in July 2006, which they would follow with an expanded report and then their book, Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for their organs , published in October 2009.
A Widespread Practice
When the research of Kilgour and Matas was released, independent writer and researcher Ethan Gutmann was heading into Bangkok to interview Falun Gong practitioners who had recently escaped from China. Although he had doubts at first, through his own research he came to the same conclusion they had.
Gutmann would interview more than 100 Falun Gong practitioners, including 50 refugees from the CCP’s prisons and labor camps, while researching the regime’s persecution against the peaceful meditation group.
During a phone interview from the United Kingdom, Gutmann said, “there was a distinct moment,” when he realized the claims were true. He was interviewing an older woman who described tests done on Falun Gong practitioners in prisons and labor camps that included expensive blood tests and examinations for organ health.
“They were given this exam and there was clearly no justification for the exam. It wasn’t a real medical exam, it was only examining organs,” Gutmann said.
He would hear the same tests described again and again. To make sure they weren’t just telling him what he wanted to hear, he only casually inquired about the tests. “It was clear they weren’t briefing each other and it was clear they didn’t realize the significance,” he said.
In order to cover the costs of the examinations, Gutmann estimated the CCP would need to take the organs of one in every 40 people they examined just to break even. If they wanted profit, they would need to kill one in every 5 or 10.
Based on his findings, he believes the CCP may have killed 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners for their organs. He said the estimation comes close to that found by Matas and Kilgour. “It’s surprising because we’re working with completely different methods. I’m not using Chinese government numbers,” Gutmann said.
He outlined his findings in a November 2008 article, “China’s Gruesome Organ Harvest,” published in the Weekly Standard magazine, as well as in an article published on his East of Ethan blog, “How many harvested?”
Through further research, however, he uncovered the CCP’s practice of killing religious believers for their organs was more widespread than had previously been believed.
He found that House Christians, Tibetans, and Uyghurs were also victims.
He was also able to prove the origin of the regime’s practice, which he will describe in an upcoming article in the Weekly Standard. “It proves that the Uyghurs were the first political prisoners to be harvested in China, in 1997 following the Gulja incident. The scale was probably fairly small, but we don’t know. What we do know is that it definitely happened,” Gutmann said.
Still, he notes that the scale of the crime appears to be highest among Falun Gong practitioners. While one piece of evidence pointed to an incident where a busload of Tibetans were subject to organ examinations, Falun Gong practitioners were often examined by the hundreds.
Uncovering a Crime
The work of Matas and Kilgour won them a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and they continue to tour the world to reveal their findings to governments and at conferences.
The Chinese regime has since stopped openly selling organs to foreigners, yet the practice is still allowed among local Chinese. Only registered hospitals are now allowed to conduct the transplants, but Matas notes, “it only works for the civilian system, not the military, and the military are the main culprits for killing Falun Gong for their organs, so it’s not really a solution.”
Overall, the CCP’s response to the findings were “nonsensical,” as Matas describes them. “If we were wrong, the government could have very easily contradicted them. What we get is just silliness,” he said.
Included among the regime’s attempts to refute the findings were a documentary by Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV, where a doctor is interviewed who had admitted to selling organs from Falun Gong practitioners in a phone call referenced in Kilgour and Matas’s research.
In the documentary, the interviewer hands him a transcript of the interview and he denies saying the parts about selling organs from Falun Gong practitioners. Matas notes that the documentary did not mention the recording of the phone call in which the doctor made his admittance—a recording that has been preserved as evidence.
Things only became more ludicrous. During a debate between Matas and a Chinese political consul at the Chinese Embassy in Israel, the Chinese official said the report was based on rumors. He tried to prove this by fabricating evidence and then refuting the evidence he created.
Matas notes that among governments and larger organizations, their findings have gotten “more acceptance as we pursue this,” adding that he and Kilgour still “haven’t seen a sustained approach in dealing with this that I would like to see.”
He believes this is partly due to the nature of the case. “You can criticize China in some ways and they’ll say ‘yes, you’re right, give us some time,’ but if you criticize them about the persecution against Falun Gong they go ballistic—they’ll walk out of the room and won’t have anything to do with you.”
According to Gutmann, “Eventually there will be either a massive reform in China or a collapse of the CCP, and very likely there will be some records still around that somebody will preserve … and people will come back and say ‘why didn’t we do anything?’ and there won’t be a good answer for that.”
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