The story was hard to stomach—gruesome, at the very least. What started as a rumor, however, would later unfold into a campaign of brutality and horror perpetrated by the Chinese regime.
International human rights lawyer David Matas was in his office when thestory broke in March 2006. It flowed into his e-mail box along with the flood of human rights updates he reads daily.
It told the story of a woman under the pseudonym “Annie,” whose husband suffered nightmares, as he suffered for the terror he had inflicted on more than 2,000 people.
Annie said her husband, a surgeon, was employed by the Chinese regime to remove the corneas from living Falun Gong practitioners, slicing their eyes open with his scalpel while they were still alive. The rest of their organs were also stripped from their bodies, all to feed a market of illicit organ trade.
When he told his wife, Annie, what he was doing, she left him and escaped to the United States to reveal the ongoing crime.
Matas had reservations with regard to the news, although he said “I knew enough about the Falun Gong to know they are being persecuted, so it occurred to me that it might be true,” in a phone interview from a Geneva hotel.
The story faded into the back of his mind until two months later. Matas and was asked to investigate the allegations alongside former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgour.
“I knew this was a difficult issue to assess,” Matas said. “When I began I had no idea whether the allegation was true or false, but I knew from my experience in the human rights world that it would be difficult to find somebody else to look at it.”
Investigating claims that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is systematically harvesting organs from living Falun Gong practitioners would be difficult. They could not interview victims since they were all killed, there were no bodies because they are cremated, and the Chinese regime does not allow human rights defenders to operate within its borders.
Matas described it as “an evidentiary conundrum,” yet his daily work of trying to prove or disprove claims by refugees gave him a place to start. “I deal with people who come with the clothes on their back and a story,” he said.
Kilgour and Matas, though, got to work and were able to find 51 evidentiary trails that led them to conclude the allegations were true. “Seeing that this is happening to a large number of innocent citizens in China in the twenty-first century, that just horrified me,” said Kilgour, in a phone interview from Canada.
Their evidence included phone calls to hospitals where individuals posed as Americans interested in buying organs from Falun Gong practitioners, and hospital staff consequently volunteered having organs available from practitioners.
China claims it gets its organs from executed prisoners, but Kilgour and Matas found discrepancies between the number of reported executions and the number of transplants. They concluded that Falun Gong practitioners were the most likely source for 41,500 transplant operations conducted between 2000 and 2005.
They published their first report in July 2006, which they would follow with an expanded report and then their book, Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for their organs, published in October 2009.
A Widespread Practice
When the research of Kilgour and Matas was released, independent writer and researcher Ethan Gutmann was heading into Bangkok to interview Falun Gong practitioners who had recently escaped from China. Although he had doubts at first, through his own research he came to the same conclusion they had.
Gutmann would interview more than 100 Falun Gong practitioners, including 50 refugees from the CCP’s prisons and labor camps, while researching the regime’s persecution against the peaceful meditation group.
During a phone interview from the United Kingdom, Gutmann said, “there was a distinct moment,” when he realized the claims were true. He was interviewing an older woman who described tests done on Falun Gong practitioners in prisons and labor camps that included expensive blood tests and examinations for organ health.
“They were given this exam and there was clearly no justification for the exam. It wasn’t a real medical exam, it was only examining organs,” Gutmann said.
He would hear the same tests described again and again. To make sure they weren’t just telling him what he wanted to hear, he only casually inquired about the tests. “It was clear they weren’t briefing each other and it was clear they didn’t realize the significance,” he said.
In order to cover the costs of the examinations, Gutmann estimated the CCP would need to take the organs of one in every 40 people they examined just to break even. If they wanted profit, they would need to kill one in every 5 or 10.
Based on his findings, he believes the CCP may have killed 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners for their organs. He said the estimation comes close to that found by Matas and Kilgour. “It’s surprising because we’re working with completely different methods. I’m not using Chinese government numbers,” Gutmann said.He outlined his findings in a November 2008 article, “China’s Gruesome Organ Harvest,” published in the Weekly Standard magazine, as well as in an article published on his East of Ethan blog, “How many harvested?”
Through further research, however, he uncovered the CCP’s practice of killing religious believers for their organs was more widespread than had previously been believed.