China harvested livers, kidneys, corneas and even hearts from tens of thousands religious prisoners while they were still alive and the world is paying no attention, according to a new documentary.
Rumours of the live organ trade in China first surfaced in 2006, and have been supported by human rights lawyers, witnesses and even surgeons who admit having performed the operations.
But claims that supporters of the Falun Gong faith are having their organs sold to wealthy transplant tourists from all over the world are still not taken seriously.
The documentary, Hard to Believe, offers the first sustained examination into why the world is so willing to turn a blind eye to ‘one of the most catastrophic human rights violations in our time’.
Thousands of organs are being harvested from Falun Gong followers in China, it is claimed. Members of the group are shown mocking up an operation as part of a 2014 protest
‘What drew me to the story was that the evidence was so strong and yet it’s hardly talked about,’ director Ken Stone told MailOnline. ‘What we did was explore why the reports and documentaries have gotten so little attention.
‘A number of people have come up with such strong evidence, but they are consistently ignored.’
The spiritual Falun Gong sect began in the 1990s and within seven years an estimated 100million people had joined the practice.
But the Chinese regime launched an aggressive crackdown on the sect in 1999, fearful of such a large group of people unified in their faith.
On July 20 1999, security forces abducted and detained thousands of people who had been identified as Falun Gong leaders. It was the start of a brutal and systematic campaign to eradicate the sect through a combination of propaganda, imprisonment and thought reform that often resulted in the death of the prisoner.
Falun Gong practitioners carry banners through the streets of Seattle this week demanding justice for President Jiang Zemin, who pushed the button on the widespread persecution of the movement’s followers in 1999
On July 20 1999, security forces abducted and detained thousands of people who had been identified as Falun Gong leaders. It was the start of a brutal and systematic campaign to eradicate the sect. Pictured: Falun Gong practitioners are pictured demonstrating in Seattle for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping
The ban is still in practice in China today, and just last year the group was placed at the top of the regime’s list of ‘most active cults’.
The new documentary explores the research of investigative journalist and China analyst Ethan Gutmann, and a Canadian investigative team consisting of human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Matas and Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour.
It includes harrowing detail offered by former Falun Gong prisoners and a surgeon who admitted that he had carved organs from living people with his own hands.
None of these credible professionals’ testimonies have been taken seriously enough to warrant an official investigation.
‘There’s a general tendency to not want to look atrocities in the face,’ Gutmann told MailOnline.
‘We acknowledge a terrible atrocity only after it’s over. Look at how long it took before the Holocaust was recognised.
‘This is a pattern we see over and over again.’
For director Ken Stone, the most compelling testimony is from Dr Enver Tohti, a native Uyghur from the west China province of Xinjiang.
Dr Tohti reveals in the documentary the chilling details of his own involvement in the live-organ harvest, in a testimony that he also gave to the European Parliament.
The doctor – who now works as a bus driver in London – was a young surgeon in Xinjiang province, when in 1995 he was taken to an execution site. There, he found a prisoner lying on the ground with a gun-shot wound.
The wound was non-fatal and the prisoner would have made a full recovery, according to the surgeon’s horrifying account.
But even so, he was told by his superiors to remove the man’s organs from his living body, before being warned to ‘remember nothing happened today’.
China has strong motivation to keep at bay the allegations of organ-harvesting, which has been dubbed by Canadian investigators a ‘billion dollar business’.
Journalist Ethan Gutmann, who witnessed first-hand the Falun Gong suppression in Beijing in 1999 and launched his own investigation in 2006, first took the rumours seriously when he interviewed former Falun Gong detainees and discovered the details of their physical exams
Human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Matas who, together with Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour, made the first investigation into the organ-harvesting allegations in 2006
Matas and Kilgour reported, in the first ever investigation into organ-harvesting in 2006, that hospitals charge $30,000 (£19,800) per cornea, $62,000 (£40,900) for a kidney and $130,000 (£86,000) for a liver or heart.
‘There was this huge population, extremely vulnerable. And they became this vast sea of expendable humanity,’ Matas tells Stone in the documentary.
The pair’s main evidence lies in the allegedly unexplained abundance of organs in China, which has the second highest transplant rate in the world despite just 37 people registered as donors nationwide, according to the Red Cross.
China itself announced that some 10,000 transplants are carried out every year, and insisted the surplus came from executed prisoners.
But, according to U.S. based prisoners’ rights group Dui Hua, just 2,400 prisoners were executed in China in 2013.
The investigative duo concluded that some 41,500 Falun Gong prisoners had been killed for their organs.
Journalist Ethan Gutmann believes the real number is even higher, reaching more than 65,000 people harvested between 2000 and 2008.
China itself announced that some 10,000 transplants are carried out every year, and insisted the surplus came from executed prisoners. But, according to U.S. based prisoners’ rights group Dui Hua, just 2,400 prisoners were executed in China in 2013
Dr Enver Tohti, a native Uyghur from the west China province of Xinjiang, provides one of the documentary’s most compelling narratives. He admitted to being directly involved in the organ-harvesting, removing the organs from the bodies of living prisoners with his own hands
Gutmann, who witnessed first-hand the Falun Gong suppression in Beijing in 1999 and launched his own investigation in 2006, first took the rumours seriously when he interviewed former Falun Gong detainees and discovered the details of their physical exams.
He realised with horror that the exams were not designed to test their fitness, but instead the health of their internal organs.
‘A chill went down my spine,’ he revealed. ‘I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is real.’
The PBS documentary, which is being aired online across the U.S. this week, was timed to coincide with the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the United States, and his address to the United Nations this week.
Hundreds of Falun Gong supporters took to the streets during the President’s visit to Seattle, in a desperate attempt to draw global attention to their plight.
‘I think people aren’t willing to listen because the way Falun Gong practitioners tell their story doesn’t play well in the U.S.’ said Stone.
The spiritual Falun Gong sect began in the 1990s and within seven years an estimated 100million people had joined the practice. Pictured: Protesters in Seattle this week
The PBS documentary, which is being aired online across the U.S. this week, was timed to coincide with the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the United States, and his address to the United Nations this week
‘They come across as crazy, as something that we can’t connect with, so people keep them at arm’s length. They are not like us.
‘But we don’t blame a refugee for not being able to tell their story perfectly. The responsibility should not be with the refugee to find justice.
‘There’s no hard evidence, no body, no smoking gun, and so it doesn’t get enough traction to even warrant an investigation.’
WHAT IS FALUN GONG – AND WHY DO ITS FOLLOWERS FACE PERSECUTION?
Falun Gong followers believe that exercise and meditation heightens their physical well-being, spirituality and moral awareness.
They perform a series of five sets of movements, which they believe stimulates energy within the body and absorbs energy from the universe.
It stems from the Chinese tradition of qigong, an ancient tradition of exercise and meditation.
The movement was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, and became an almost instant hit.
But by July 1999, Falun Gong practitioners were being starved, beaten and tortured, resulting in thousands of deaths.
By 2008, there were more than 3,000 documented cases of practitioners being tortured to death by the state. But the real number is likely far higher.
The Chinese state justifies the persecution by claiming that Falun Gong is a menace to society, tightly-organised and dangerous.
State media describes horrifying stories of mutilation and violence at the hands of the supposedly peaceful practitioners, but outsiders aren’t able to investigate.
Human Rights Watch has called the official claims ‘bogus’.
Another theory behind the persecution claims that party chairman Jiang Zemin, who pushed the button on the widespread repression, was obsessed with the movement.
Yet another claims that the movement’s popularity reminded regime leaders of former religious movements that had turned violent in the past, such as the Taiping group which was responsible for the deaths of 20 million people.
Others claim that the party was fearful that the movement had become too large and unmanageable, and that their individual ideologies took the followers outside of party control.