China's executioners work overtime: International outcry over organ transplant grows as car thieves join rising toll of those shot after summary trials

THE international outcry about the Chinese use of organs from executed criminals for transplants will be fuelled this week by figures from Amnesty International that show a sharp rise in the use of the death penalty.

The number of executions is a state secret, so the human rights group's estimate is based on official Chinese media reports of cases. For the first half of 1994, Amnesty has collated reports of 696 executions, compared with 392 in the same period of 1993. This may be only a fraction of the total, because many executions are not reported and Amnesty's trawl of the Chinese press cannot be comprehensive. According to some estimates, the actual figure could be 10 times higher.

The death sentence in China is routine, even for non-violent crimes.

Amnesty's figures include 33 people executed in May in Guangdong province for stealing cars. Last Friday, Chinese newspapers publicised the executions of six people for forging VAT invoices.

Anti-corruption and anti- crime crackdowns were particularly fierce this year before the celebrations for the 45th anniversary of the People's Republic on 1 October. On one day alone, a week before the holiday, 45 people were shot in Wuhan, the biggest mass execution in that city since 1983.

But the relationship between the death penalty and a lucrative trade in human organs has shocked international opinion. Human Rights Watch/Asia.

says it is the increased use of capital punishment that is 'driving' the organ transplant industry, rather than vice-versa. 'However, demand for transplantable organs may pose an incentive for courts to expedite killings of people whose guilt is in doubt or who might otherwise be spared.'

Over the past few years, the number of transplant operations has steadily increased because of advances in Chinese medical science and facilities.

Kidney transplants rose from 840 in 1988 to 1,905 in 1992, according to a mainland journal. This raises the question of where the extra kidneys were procured. Human Rights Watch/Asia estimates that 2,000 to 3,000 organs, mainly kidneys and corneas, have been harvested annually from executed prisoners.

Until 1991, China denied using prisoners' organs, but there was already widespread evidence of the practice. The procedures were spelt out in a secret 1984 legal directive: 'Where it is genuinely necessary . . . a surgical vehicle from the health department may be permitted to drive on to the execution grounds to remove the organs, but it is not permissible to use a vehicle bearing health department insignia, or to wear white clothing.

Guards must remain posted around the execution grounds while . . . organ removal is going on.'

The document stated that consent for organ removal must be obtained from the prisoner. But human rights groups cite frequent abuses of this regulation.

According to a former judge quoted by Human Rights Watch/Asia, condemned prisoners are typically taken in leg-irons to an interrogation room to hear their death warrant being read. The prisoners are placed in a chair, their wrists bound, and another rope tied around their waist. After sentence is read, the prisoner, as a 'security precaution', remains bound to the chair for the rest of the night. At dawn he or she is driven to the execution ground, a thin rope tied around the neck and gripped tightly by a guard to prevent the prisoner calling out. At no stage are prisoners asked if they are willing to allow their organs to be removed after execution.

Human Rights Watch/Asia says officials in some parts of China resort to illegal methods of execution in order to preserve the organs they want to sell. A former Shanghai police official is quoted as saying: 'In order to preserve the eyes (to sell corneas) the prisoner is shot in the heart. That is what happens. If they need the heart, the prisoner is shot in the head.'

Money is the key to the trade in human organs. China's hospitals are starved of funds, so foreigners are a welcome source of revenue. Many patients arrive from Hong Kong, where there is a chronic shortage of organ donors because of traditional Chinese beliefs that a body should be buried intact.

A survey in the colony of 26 patients who received kidney transplants in China during the 1980s found that, even then, the going rate was between dollars 13,000 and dollars 25,000 (pounds 8,000-pounds 15,000).

Hong Kong doctors try to warn patients of the risks of going to China. In June 1993, the Journal of the Hong Kong Medical Association compared local transplant patients with those who had travelled to the mainland. 'The first-year mortality was four times that of transplants done locally, and there was a marked increase in morbidity related to chronic hepatitis B and C viral infections, often acquired after the transplant procedures,' it said.

Legislation is under discussion in the colony to limit the trade in human organs. But even doctors opposed to the practice recognise a moral conflict.

Patients facing death can be desperate, said a senior urologist at a public hospital. 'If we cannot perform sufficient numbers of transplants in Hong Kong, then you cannot really point an accusing finger at the patient. They have no choice.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam