Organs for sale on China’s transplant market are most likely illegally sourced from ethnic Uyghur and Falun Gong practitioner prisoners of conscience, according to a new report by a Washington-based rights group.
The report by the Victims of Communism (VOC) Memorial Foundation said evidence of blood testing and medical examinations in custody suggests “extrajudicial organ sourcing from these populations is the most plausible and parsimonious explanation” for what it called “rapid availability” of organs and “extraordinary growth” of China’s market.
“As such, readers should adopt it as empirically adequate until either a better explanation or reliable data inconsistent with the hypothesis emerges,” said the report, entitled “Organ Procurement and Extrajudicial Execution in China” and released Tuesday.
VOC’s report compiled nearly 800 data points from more than 300 hospitals it said showed “rapid growth” of China’s transplantation system just after 2000, and examined “several hundred” original, primary sources on practices in the country—including documents, internal speeches and Communist Party circulars, handbooks, and websites.
From 2000-2004, China more than tripled the number of hospitals performing transplants, the report said, leading to volume growth in kidney transplants of 510 percent, in liver transplants of 1,820 percent, in heart transplants of 1,100 percent, and in lung transplants of 2,450 percent.
Initially, officials claimed that the tens of thousands of annual transplants had used organs willingly donated by civilians, according to the report, but when the volume could no longer be explained, they stated in 2005 that the organs came from death row prisoners.
According to VOC, however, the well-established decline in death row executions from 2000 onwards could not account for what it said were “at least several times more transplants than even the largest estimates of death-row prisoners,” indicating that “some other organ source … must have been utilized.”
“If death row prisoners were not the source of the majority of transplants, the only remaining plausible explanation for a substantial portion of the organ sourcing since 2000 is prisoners of conscience,” it said.
VOC noted the coincidental timing of the anti-Falun Gong campaign in China, which began in July 1999—six months before the rapid growth of the transplant industry—and cited reports by those targeted of blood tests and physical examinations it said were consistent with those required for organ procurement.
After international pressure, China in 2015 began to claim that it was sourcing organs from voluntary donors only, but the report said that relevant data has been falsified, with the number of transplants revised downwards, as part of an attempt to deceive the global medical community.
“Given that transplants continue both at scale and on demand, it appears that a secondary concealed organ source is now also being exploited,” it said.
During the same period, since April 2017, authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are believed to have detained as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in internment camps, with reports of blood-testing, DNA typing, and the shipment of detainees to the Chinese interior by rail.
“Former Uyghur detainees now in exile have reported blood tests and physical examinations consistent with those necessary to establish organ health,” the report said.
“The coincidence of the mass internment in Xinjiang, ongoing rapid organ availability in Chinese hospitals, and blood and physical tests consistent with assessing organ health, is readily explicable by the exploitation of Uyghurs for their organs.”
VOC noted that with limited access, “only the Chinese authorities are in a position to put these allegations to rest,” but instead of doing so, they have co-opted international medical elites, issued propaganda denials, and falsified data, to create a “Potemkin voluntary donation system while continuing to offer organs on demand to paying clients.”
The report urged global governments to challenge China on the sourcing of its organs, and for international medical and rights groups to raise concerns over the scale of the transplant market and real source of organs.
VOC China Studies Research Fellow Matthew P. Robertson, who produced the report, warned at an event in Washington Tuesday that “if all do nothing, that creates a self-reinforcing effect that maybe [extrajudicial organ sourcing] is not a thing.”
Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.