Chinese prisoners relive torture, advocate to end organ harvesting

By Connor Mulvaney, April 9, 2013

Point Park News Service

[Photo caption: Chunying Wang still suffers from injuries she endured while in a Chinese labor camp where prisoners are often tortured and robbed of their organs. Her hands are permanently swollen and scarred from torture.]

Prison guards horrified Chunying Wang when they  forced her to have her blood tested in a Chinese labor camp because she knew it was a precursor to forced organ harvesting, which also meant her execution.

Like Wang, Zhen-Jie Yu knew medical tests were finding matches for organ transplants, which could mean her demise.

“When I saw, because I am a nurse [I understood what was happening],” said Wang through a translator.

While Wang and Yu were witnesses to fellow dissidents being tortured and robbed of their vital organs in secret prisons, they were able to escape China and come to the United States to protest and raise awareness for the atrocities they experienced in their homeland as volunteers for the Falun Dafa Association of Washington D.C.

According to Jingduan Yang, a representative of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, the Falun Gong were originally political targets for Chinese President Jiang Zemin because of the large number of practitioners. The Chinese government estimates that 70-100 million people practice Falun Gong, a number that rivals the membership of the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP perceives this as a threat.

Falun Gong practitioners rarely give authorities their names upon arrest in order to protect their families, friends and jobs. This leaves prisoners very vulnerable because there are no legal processes for people who technically do not exist to the government.

“Millions are put into labor camps,” said Yang. “And they’re subjected to rape, torture and of course organ harvesting.”

A law was passed in China in 1984 that made the CCP’s administration the only government that condones organ harvesting from executed prisoners, according to DAFOH spokesman Damon Noto. The Chinese Vice Minister of Health in 2005 admitted that organs were being harvested from prisoners, and these accounted for 90% of transplanted organs. However, the systematic human rights violations have not stopped.

Wang and Yu were detained in Chinese prison camps for associating with the group known as the Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa), which is said to be the fastest-growing spiritual and wellness movement in Asia. Practitioners of the ancient Chinese tradition are violently arrested and routinely imprisoned in labor camps because the government considers them a cult. Once in custody, they are given blood and tissue tests to find potential organ matches. Their corneas, lungs, hearts, livers, kidneys, pancreas and their lives are then at the expense of the Chinese government.

The persecution of Falun Gong leaves the Chinese government with a large, healthy, captive population that is completely unprotected from human rights violations. They are readily available for organ harvesting, allowing Chinese transplant centers to schedule operations on a timetable of weeks, according to Noto. Wait times for transplants in the United States are based on timetables of months or years.

The Chinese government’s abuse of its own people has drawn attention from some human rights groups, including the U.S. State Department’s 2011 Human Rights Report.

Wang and Yu recently shared their stories at the Transplant Abuse In China Forum at the University of Pittsburgh.

“They broke into my house…they pointed a gun at my head, threw me down to the floor,” said Yu through a translator about her arrest for practicing Falun Gong. “They sent me to the detention center, then sent me to the hospital.”

Once in custody, Yu was injected with drugs that caused pain and temporary paralysis.

“I was like a dummy after the drug injection,” said Yu. “I did not know my name. My whole body was [discolored] and swollen because of the chemicals. My saliva could not be controlled, I could not control my bladder or bowel movements.”

Wang also vividly remembers the day she was tested for potential organ matches. It began when her forced labor was interrupted to go to the local health center. When she saw the other prisoners having their blood drawn, Wang knew that they were being tested for forced organ harvesting.

Wang asked a guard why they were undergoing medical tests. The response was testing for contagious diseases. Wang pressed further questions and was told, “Don’t talk, don’t worry about it. Just do whatever I tell you to do.”

Wang refused to cooperate, and began yelling “Falun Dafa is good! Falun Dafa is good! Truthfulness, compassion, forbearance is good!” This behavior earned Wang a test by herself.

“They had four people drag me because I refused to have the blood test done because I knew something weird was going on,” said Wang. “I was holding on to a doorknob so they had four people dragging me out of there. They had two more policemen come and force me to open my hand. They forced me into the room.”

Once in the examination room, nine policemen held Wang down to be tested.

“At that time, the captain…got a pillow and pushed it on my face so I could barely breathe,” said Wang. “I tried to struggle out…I was lucky enough, in between the bed and the wall there was a little bitty space. The whole pillow was on me so I was almost choked to death, but I turned my head sideways close to the wall and there was a small gap there. I breathed from there and survived.”

Wang and Yu were not able to share their entire stories and requested certain information not to be printed. They did not have any organs harvested.

These women’s stories of torture are not unusual for people who practice Falun Gong in China.  However, Wang and Yu were able to escape further persecution and worse, unlike many others. Dr. Jianchao Xu, an assistant professor of nephrology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and also a DAFOH representative, stated that independent studies estimate that 30,000 to 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners have been killed for their organs.

“Where there’s a possibility to make a lot of money or to abuse the system it’s really hard to catch those individuals when they’re all involved in the same party and no one is overseeing them,” said Noto.

When persecution of the Falun Gong began in 1999, the transplant business in China soon began to grow. In 1999, China had 150 transplant centers. By 2007, there were 600 transplant centers across the country, with about 10,000 transplants being performed in the country every year, according to Noto.

“The amount of transplants exploded and it was very concerning to transplant surgeons internationally,” said Noto. “A lot of them understood that China was not a country that had a very large public organ donation program.”

The Red Cross did a study in Beijing in 2009 that concluded that not one person had become an elected organ donor that year, and that there were only 217 donors nationally. Although it is legal in China for organs from executed prisoners to be transplanted, there were not enough legally documented executions in China per year to match the number of transplants, according to Noto.  Where do the rest of the organs come from, then?

The answer, according to human rights attorney David Matas, is forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners, but because of the stranglehold the CCP has on information in China, evidence that suggests transplant abuse is circumstantial.

“It’s hard to come to any assessment as to whether this is happening or not,” said Matas. “It was the accumulation of the evidence rather than any one evidentiary trail that led us to this conclusion. One of the trails we looked at was mechanisms in place to prevent the abuse, and basically there was none.”

The first trails of evidence Matas cited was the persecution and medical testing of Falun Gong.  This evidence is critical, according to Matas, because the health of prisoners such as Yu and Wang were of no concern to the government. Therefore, the logical reason is for blood and tissue testing of prisoners is to find potential organ matches.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of these abuses is phone calls made by Matas’ partners in China posing as relatives of patients in need of transplants. The callers asked hospital staff if they had organs of Falun Gong practitioners for sale, because they knew the organs would be healthy. Hospital staffs across China admitted to having organs of Falun Gong practitioners readily available.

If transplant organ abuse is systemized from the Chinese government down to hospital staff across the country, how could it be stopped?  Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting encourages signing the petition at, or writing to state representatives. Alerting doctors is also encouraged.

The international medical community is also taking action. Dr. Xu cited the backlash from the International Congress of The Transplant Society in July 2012, where 30 abstracts were prevented from presentation because of unclear sources of organ donations.

Xu also quoted an editorial statement from the American Journal of Transplantations that condemned the “widespread” transplant abuse in China, and that the journal would not be associated with the “killing on demand” of prisoners for organs. Xu called this “a very strong statement on this stance.”

The United States Department of Homeland Security also requires visa applicants to state whether or not they were involved in forced organ harvesting. Although some might lie, Xu said, if applicants are found to have answered dishonestly they may face repercussions.

Legislation has been proposed for extra-territorial transplant tourism laws in Belgium, Canada, Taiwan, Israel, and Australia, according to Matas. Transplant tourism is when one travels to another country, specifically China, to undergo a transplant. Short wait times and low costs make this a profitable business in China.

Matas also believed the education of transplant surgeons plays a major role in stopping forced organ harvesting.

“There’s something more that can be done here at the University of Pittsburgh,” said Matas.  “A lot of transplant surgeons in China come through Pittsburgh…[Pitt should] try to get commitments from people coming from China or going through China…saying they haven’t participated in organ transplant abuse and they won’t participate in organ transplant abuse.”

Many hospitals require this from their transplant surgeons, especially in Australia, according to Matas.

“The University of Pittsburgh, in my view, should require that as a precondition for training for transplant surgeons,” said Matas.

While the international medical community and lawmakers begin to take action, steps toward preventing human rights violations will be slow.

“Imagine, in order for people to survive in China you have to be in agreement with the government,” said Yang. “The communist party has nothing to do with China. This comes from Marxism, Leninism…The Chinese never had that kind of philosophy or culture. They had to transplant that ideology into the heads of the Chinese.”

Therefore, Chinese immigrants fight on their countrymen’s behalf. Volunteers from the Falun Dafa Association of Washington D.C., many of them Chinese immigrants including Wang and Yu, were also in attendance at the forum. The group has been spreading awareness for organ harvesting in Pittsburgh for over a week

“I hope the persecution [of Falun Gong] can end so all the organ harvesting can end in China,” said Yu.

Yu’s brother and sister-in-law are also imprisoned for practicing Falun Gong.  Photographs of a friend of Yu’s after he became a victim of organ harvesting were also presented during the forum.

31 – Chunying Wang still suffers from injuries she endured while in a Chinese labor camp where prisoners are often tortured and robbed of their organs. Her hands are permanently swollen and scarred from torture.

 Original Article
[Point Park News Service is based in the Communications Department of Point Park University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.]