by David Matas
UK Parliament briefing session 25 November, 2014 / Welsh National Assembly briefing November 26, 2014 / Photo by Roger Luo
I have been asked to address new developments on the killing of Falun Gong for their organs. As time goes by and organ transplant abuse in China continues, the pace of new developments accelerates. Given the time I have, I will mention only one new development, the officially sanctioned disclosure in China, two weeks ago, of evidence of organ transplant abuse.
Official access in China to evidence of Chinese organ transplant abuse happened once before, at the time of the power struggle between the then Chongqing mayor Bo Xilai and then Premier Wen Jiabao factions within the Communist Party. The attempted defection of Bo Xilai henchman Wang Lijun in February 2012 to the American consulate in Chengdu and the scramble between Bo Xilai and President Hu Jintao to get Wang Lijun back led to a temporary lifting, in March 2012, of the Chinese internet blockage of work that David Kilgour and I had done showing that Falun Gong were being killed for their organs.
While this lifting came without explanation, it was presumably an attempt by the Wen Jiabao faction to discredit Bo Xilai by making visible his link to forced organ harvesting, something in which, when he was head of the Communist Party in Liaoning Province, he had been heavily implicated. The attempt at this linkage was a lot more explicit than just the lifting of the blockage.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, at a closed Communist Party meeting in Zhongnanhai on March 14, is reported to have said about Bo Xilai:
“Without anaesthetic, the live harvesting of human organs and selling them for money is this something that a human could do? Things like this have happened for many years. We are about to retire, but it is still not resolved. Now that the Wang Lijun incident is known by the entire world, use this to punish Bo Xilai. Resolving the Falun Gong issue should be a natural choice.”
The Party announced the next day that Bo lost his position as Communist Party General Secretary of Chongqing. Five days after that, the Chinese search engine Baidu, for twenty four hours, lifted its blockage of our report.
The Falun Gong issue was too big for the Party to handle without self destructing. There were too many people in the Party involved in the persecution to pin the blame on Bo Xilai. Then President Hu Jintao and then Vice President now President Xi Jinping attempted to minimize the scope of the targeting of Bo Xilai.
Hu and Xi, in the effort to get rid of Bo, wanted to take Falun Gong and organ transplant abuse off the table. Instead, on April 10th, on the day that Bo was suspended from the Politburo and placed under a Party disciplinary investigation, the Party announced that Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo, was being investigated criminally for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. She was eventually convicted of that murder and given in August 2012 a suspended death sentence.
Bo was charged with abuse of power because of his efforts to protect his wife. He was also charged with and convicted of bribery and corruption. The window into Bo Xilai’s wrongdoing was not opened up wide enough though to address his part in the repression of Falun Gong. He was tried in August 2013, convicted in September and sentenced to life in prison.
The Chinese Communist Party disclosure of organ transplant abuse which had occurred briefly in March 2012 seemed, with the conviction of Bo, to have ended for good. But then new disclosures were made just two weeks ago, on November 11th.
A remarkable article in the China Medical Tribune, an official medical publication available in Chinese in China, reports on a press conference held by Huang Jiefu, director of the China Organ Donation Committee and former viceminister of health, at the Chinese medical transplant congress in Hangzhou October 30th, 2014.
The article refers to
• the Virginia Medical Association Resolution 13207 of May 2014,
• the Pennsylvania House of Representatives resolution number 1052 passed 198 in favour, none against, adopted October 8, 2014
• The TAICOT appeal of October 27, 2014 to boycott Chinese organ transplantation.
• A Minghui webpage and link from December 7, 2009.
The Virginia Medical Association Resolution 13207 of May 2014
• condemns systematic, statesanctioned organ harvesting in China,
• calls for “a full and transparent investigation by the United States Department of State into organ transplant practices in the People’s Republic of China, and for the prosecution of those found to have engaged in such unethical practices”,
• recommends that the US State Department
a) issue a travel warning for US citizens travelling to China for organ transplants and
b) bar the entry of those who have participated in organ harvesting, and
• calls for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives resolution number 1052 adopted October 8, 2014
• calls upon the Government of China to immediately end the practice of forced organ harvesting from all prisoners, particularly from Falun Gong prisoners and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups;
• calls upon the Government of China to increase accountability and transparency in the organ transplant system and punish those responsible for abuses;
• urges the United States Government to commence a full and transparent investigation into organ transplant practices in China;
• calls upon the United States Government to prohibit any doctors involved in unethical organ procurement or transplantation surgery using organs harvested from living prisoners in China from gaining entry into the United States; and
• encourages the medical community of Pennsylvania to help raise awareness of unethical organ transplant practices in China.
The Taiwan Association for International Care of Organ Transplant (TAICOT) on October 27, 2014 appealed to experts in transplantation medicine, the international community and the people invited to attend the China Transplant Congress
• not to participate and not to support the Chinese Transplant Congress and China’s exchange activities related to organ transplantation, and
• not to cooperate in any form with China on professional organ transplants.
Minghui is the Chinese version of Clear Wisdom, a Falun Gong website. The linked webpage of December 7, 2009 has a detailed analysis of transplant statistics in China showing that the number of prisoners sentenced to death and then executed could not possibly provide the number of organs used for transplant in China and indicates that practitioners of Falun Gong are the likely source. The title of the article, in translation, is “The condemned could not supply the mushroom cloud of China’s organ transplant market”. “The condemned” refers to those sentenced to death and executed. The mushroom cloud metaphor is used to dramatize the sudden explosion of transplant volumes coincident with the persecution of Falun Gong.
Well, what is going on here? Why did this China Medical Tribune article appear? An article in China, in Chinese, is directed to a local audience. In free countries, the media tells the reader what to think about. In China, the media tells its readers what to think.
Huang Jiefu, director of the China Organ Donation Committee and former viceminister of health, told the China Medical Tribune that all the cited foreign sources are “nonsense”, “rumour”. He asserts “Over time, the truth will be restored”. He states “Justice may be late, but never absent.”
Though Minghui is cited and the link to the webpage is provided, someone clicking on the link in China will get nowhere. A web based service which allows for the testing of any website to determine whether it is accessible from China shows that the Minghui website is not accessible.
The refutation of the foreign sources cited is, to say the least, feeble. The China Medical Tribune article does not mention Falun Gong, but it does mention the evidence of foreign research that death penalty numbers are insufficient to account for transplant volumes. The China Medical Tribune article provides no explanation for the discrepancy between the volume of transplants and the volume of identified sources.
As well, the article has an unusual exchange. He Xiaoshun from the Organ Transplantation Centre, First Affiliated Hospital, Sun Yatsen University, Guangzhou, Guangdong is reported as stating to Huang Jiefu, “Let us open the door so that international scholars can investigate these rumours and prove to themselves that they are unfounded.” Huang Jiefu is reported as replying: “Now is not the right time.” Yet, if not now, when?
Normally, one does not repeat a rumour to those unaware of it for the purpose of refutation. I doubt, for instance, that anyone here who heard a rumour you believed to be false that your wife or husband was unfaithful would repeat the rumour to those who had not heard it for the purpose of denying it.
So the fact that the article attempts to refute foreign research and condemnation of Chinese organ transplant abuse is not, in itself, an adequate explanation for its appearance. There is something more happening.
One explanation is that information about and condemnation of organ transplant abuse in China has been coming from too many directions for the Chinese Communist Party to ignore. So, instead of pretending that the concern about the abuse does not exist, they have shifted to denying the abuse.
Denying, rather than ignoring, criticism does have the downside of giving publicity to the criticism, which is what we are now seeing. If the criticism is little known, silence is often the best strategy. However, if the criticism is already widely known, then silence serves no purpose. The Chinese Communist authorities must have come to the conclusion that the knowledge of organ transplant abuse in China has become so widespread that the Party has less to lose by denying it than by ignoring it.
A second explanation, particular to the transplant profession in China, is the international pariah status they have developed through their complicity in the abuse. In general, saving face is an important Chinese cultural value. For the transplant profession, the global disgrace in which they are held is likely to have affected them deeply.
The China Medical Tribune article reports the refusal to allow 35 Chinese participants for ethical reasons to attend the World Transplant Congress in San Francisco in July 2014. It also notes that for the most recent Hangzhou transplant conference “many overseas transplant experts failed to attend”.
A year before, in October 2013, the China Transplant Congress, also held in Hangzhou, had a raft of foreign expert attendees. That meeting produced a declaration committing Chinese hospitals to ending the sale of organs and the sourcing of organs from prisoners. In the interim, nothing of the sort happened. The Omar Healthcare website continued, unabashedly, to promote transplant tourism into Tianjin China. The continuation of that website as well as other information prompted an open letter from The Transplantation Society to President of China Xi Jinping sent the end of February 2014. That letter stated that “even as the new [organ donor] program is being piloted, it has already been infiltrated by persons driven by the same corrupt practices who have assumed authority for the distribution of organs.” The letter asked China to get matters right.
The letter from the Society led to a couple of responses. One is that the Omar Health Care website was taken down. Another was that the Chinese government publicly abandoned the commitment to end the sourcing of organs from prisoners. Instead, Huang Jiefu asserted that China would incorporate the sourcing of organs from prisoners into its donor system. He stated that “Judicial bodies and local health ministries should establish ties and allow death row prisoners to voluntarily donate organs and be added to the computer organ allocation system”. By doing that, Huang Jiefu effectively burned his bridges to the overseas transplant community.
Many attendees to the 2014 Hangzhou conference were likely asking where all the overseas transplant experts were. Huang Jiefu must have felt compelled to say something to explain and counter their absence.
The NGO Doctors against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) on October 20th released a statement which provided that
“we would consider it unethical for any foreign transplant professional to attend this transplant congress in Hangzhou given the rampant and unrepentant transplant abuse in China, unless the person is going with the express and sole purpose of speaking out against it.”
This statement, along with other developments, would have been a drag on overseas transplant expert attendance.
Those doctors who applied to attend and participate in the World Transplant Congress in San Francisco in July 2014 and were rejected, and their colleagues who knew they were applying to attend, also needed an explanation. The Communist Party may have felt that they could ignore the evidence of the killing of Falun Gong for their organs. However, they could not ignore the fact that Chinese transplant doctors were denied admission to an international transplant congress or that foreign transplant doctors who had come before to China were no longer coming.
International peer pressure accomplished more than all the weight of the evidence had been able to do. That peer pressure made the Party realize that the Party had to acknowledge the criticism of Chinese transplant abuse, if only to attempt to refute it.
The fact that peer pressure could accomplish what evidence could not should tell us something, that our leverage for change in China is not the evidence alone. It is contact with international colleagues. Ostracization can accomplish what evidence alone cannot.
From my perspective, Huang Jiefu is putting on hold an independent outside investigation into sourcing of organs in China until the Chinese transplant system shifts away from sourcing organs from prisoners. Then, so he hopes, there could be a complete disclosure of sourcing without, presumably, any reference to or acknowledgement of the past.
Communists flip the past and the future. To non-Communists, the past is fixed and the future is flexible. To Communists it is the reverse. The future is inevitable, determined – their victory. The past is malleable, rewritten at will to suit their convenience.
Letting the cat part way out of the bag, Huang Jiefu and his colleagues will find, is no solution. Delay, which they think they can profitably use to cover up their misdeeds, will serve no purpose.
Unless abuse is confronted and opposed directly, it will continue. Those making large amounts of money by killing prisoners to sell their organs will not easily be dissuaded from continuing their crimes. Huang Jiefu has deluded himself and is deluding others if he thinks that he can end the abuse without confronting it.
That seems to be logically so. Yet, the Party, as we have learned from experience, is moved neither by logic nor evidence. However, it can be moved by international pressure. The international transplant profession should make clear now that accountability in the future for the sourcing of organs for transplants will not suffice. Accountability for the past must be an essential requirement for integrating the Chinese transplant profession into the global transplant profession.
Huang Jiefu spoke better than he knew. Even in China, one day the truth will out. The perpetrators of organ transplant abuse will be brought to justice. Justice may be late but, even in China, someday justice will arrive.
David Matas is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada