Human Rights

Report details how China executes prisoners and religious minorities for their organs


China was named the world’s top executioner in 2014, executing more people than the rest of the world combined. The country took this title even without ever disclosing just how many people have been executed. It is widely believed that thousands of people in China are secretly executed for their organs and that it’s been happening for decades. A report released in June details the major discrepancies in the number of people who have volunteered to be organ donors and the number of people who have received transplants in the country.

The report, by former Canadian lawmaker David Kilgour, human rights lawyer David Matas, and journalist Ethan Gutmann, shows that the number of transplants publicly reported by hospitals across China is far different than the official numbers reported by the government. Kilgour, Matas, and Gutmann have estimated that up to 100,000 organs are being transplanted in China each year – 10 times what China reports.

“The (Communist Party) says the total number of legal transplants is about 10,000 per year. But we can easily surpass the official Chinese figure just by looking at the two or three biggest hospitals,” Matas said in a statement.

Those hospitals have released statements and records of thousands of transplants performed annually. Just by looking at the small number of hospitals detailed in their report, the authors have found that the official number of 10,000 is far lower the probable 60,000 – 100,000 that are occurring.

How can up to 100,000 people be receiving organ donations when, according to China’s organ transplant system, only 2,766 people volunteered to donate organs in 2015? And why is China’s official number of transplants drastically lower than the number found in this report?

According to the authors of the report, it’s because China has secretly been executing prisoners of conscience and harvesting their organs in order to grow their profitable organ donation business. These prisoners, according to the report, are mostly religious and ethnic minorities and include Christians, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. A large number of them are practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual practice.

According to Maya Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch, the Chinese government views Falun Gong as a threat and therefore not only banned the spiritual group back in 1999, but has also imprisoned and tortured its members ever since. They were locked up in “black jails” which are legal labor camps created by the government to detain citizens without charge or conviction. These people have been subjected to frequent blood draws and medical exams in preparation for organ harvesting to supply the growing organ transplant market. In some cases, the people are executed before their organs are harvested, but in other instances, organs are taken out one by one while they are still alive.

China had long denied these accusations; however, in 2005, they finally admitted they were harvesting organs from unwilling participants, and they promised to change their practices. The numbers show they have not.

Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting told The New York Post they focus a great deal on China because it is the only place in the entire world that practices systemized, forced organ harvesting. DAFOH Australia spokeswoman Sophia Bryskine said there are no laws in China against the practice, and a 1984 Provision still “allows for executed prisoners to be used as donors — in direct violation of all international guidelines.”

Jintao Liu, 36, practices Falun Gong and told that he didn’t always believe China was actually performing these forced organ harvests. Now living in Australia, Liu said he was arrested in China for his spiritual beliefs and put in prison for over two years. During that time he was tortured and abused.

“I had heard something about organ harvesting but even though I was being detained and beaten, at first I thought it was too brutal to believe,” he told “Emotionally I thought maybe those people who yelled not to hurt my organs just didn’t want me to die. Then my logic told me, why would these people care about my life? Why wouldn’t they say ‘Don’t hurt this person’? Not ‘Don’t hurt his organ.’ I just felt it was strange they care about my organ rather than my person.”

Liu is happy he made it out alive, but he must deal with the tragedy of knowing what happened to his friends and prison-mates. Some of his friends were taken from their cells, never to be seen again.

Despite the extreme human rights violations involved in organ transplants in China, people from around the world turn to the country to receive transplants — including Americans such as Eric De Leon. De Leon had liver cancer and was told that he would have to wait about two years for a transplant. He was taken off the transplant list when the cancer returned after chemotherapy. Doctors told him that the cancer would likely occur in a donated liver as well. So De Leon flew to China and had an immediate transplant. He paid $110,000 and was told that the liver came from a 20-year-old.

Countless people are heading to China for immediate transplants rather than waiting it out in their home countries. However, doctors advise against this because it is unknown whether organs are being screened for disease and because it is understood that China is killing people to steal their organs.

Despite the mounting evidence against China for organ harvesting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China has “strict laws and regulations on this issue.”

“As for the testimony and the published report, I want to say that such stories about forced organ harvesting in China are imaginary and baseless — they don’t have any factual foundation,” she said earlier this year.

Thanks to heavy international pressure, China banned the harvesting of organs of executed prisoners and declared it would switch to a voluntary donation system in 2014. However, China doesn’t report how many prisoners are executed each year, and those imprisoned without cause or conviction are likely not included in that ban since they are not being executed for crimes, but for their organs.

These prisoners simply disappear as Liu’s friends did.

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