When reports first emerged from China in 2006 that state-run hospitals were killing prisoners of conscience to sell their organs, it seemed too horrible to be true.
However, a new documentary is about to blow the lid on the illegal organ trade that is now allegedly worth a staggering US$1 billion a year. This despite the fact 10,000 organs are transplanted in China every year, yet there are only a tiny number of people on the official donor register.
‘Human Harvest: China’s Organ Trafficking’ will show how once researchers around the world – including human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian member of parliament David Kilgour – began to uncover the gory details, the true picture was soon uncovered.
In 2006 a non-governmental coalition was formed called ‘The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong in China’. They requested that Mr Kilgour and Mr Matas investigate allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China because of their extensive academic and political backgrounds and prior involvement in human rights activism.
The damning evidence they uncovered suggests that tens of thousands of innocent people have been killed on demand to supply an ongoing illegal organ transplant industry.
How these two Nobel Peace Prize nominees pieced together the evidence and continue to fight against this unimaginable horror is told in the program.
The pair have spent years investigating organ trafficking in China, and it’s claimed that political prisoners are being used as live organ donors.
They believe the organs come from members of the Falun Gong movement – a quasi-religious group with millions of followers, which is banned by the Chinese Government.
‘I can testify that this hospital forcibly removed organs, such as livers and corneas,’ says former worker Annie of allegations that members of the banned Falun Gong movement were killed for their organs.
‘Some practitioners were still breathing after their organs were removed, but they were thrown into the hospital’s incinerator anyway.’
Filmmaker Leon Lee, who is based in Canada, is the man behind the documentary. He first read about the allegations in 2006 and he couldn’t take it all in.
‘The story seemed too incredible to believe. Several months later, David Matas and David Kilgour published their investigation report Bloody Harvest,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I was inspired to investigate further and see for myself if this horrific story could really be and that’s how it all began. Eight years later Human Harvest has been released and now you can see for yourself too.’
The China organ trade is now worth a staggering US$1 billion a year, Mr Lee claims.
From 1980 onwards, China began withdrawing government funds from the health sector, expecting hospitals to start charging people for their services. According to Chinese doctors, state funding is often not even enough to cover staff salaries for one month.
‘Transplants range from about US$60,000 to over US$170, 000 depending on the operation, so there is a lot of money to be made there. Sadly the sale of organs has become a source of funding,’ Mr Lee told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Orient Organ Transplant Centre in Tianjin reported revenue of at least 100 million yuan (approximately US$16 million) on liver transplant alone in 2007.
‘That’s the number in one hospital, for one kind of transplant in one year only. Now imagine the whole of China.’
The subject is still one that people find hard to believe or do not want to believe for various reasons.
However, in recent years China has been heavily criticized by the UN for its use of death row prisoners for organ transplanting. Laws preventing organ tourism to China are being instated around the world and are already in place in Israel and Spain.
Both US Congress and the European Parliament have passed resolutions condemning Chinese regime’s practice of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, and asking China to stop such practice.
Canada’s recent ‘Subcommittee on International Human Rights’ also unanimously passed a similar motion.
‘It’s a start, but a lot still needs to be done. Awareness and action at this point is really essential, we can’t keep allowing this human rights abuse to continue,’ Mr Lee said.
As it would have been impossible and very dangerous to shoot in mainland China, Mr Lee filmed in several other countries and obtained footage from his sources in China.
‘Finding people that wanted to talk and gaining their trust was a slow process, the film took eight years to make,’ he says.
‘It was very difficult because people fear persecution from the Chinese regime. Identities were hidden in some cases to protect those involved.’
But for all his best intentions, will anything really be done to stop this gruesome business? Particularly considering the power that China wields worldwide? Mr Lee believes that it will.
You can help spread awareness in your networks of family and friends and hopefully this film, which is currently gaining momentum, will help to shed a light on this atrocious crime. That’s the hope anyway,’ he says.