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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on