In China, Organ Harvesting From Death Row Is About To End

"Stop Organ Harvesting in China" illustration
"Stop Organ Harvesting in China" illustration
Zhang jin

BEIJING — Beginning in January, China will abandon harvesting organs from executed prisoners, and organs needed for transplants will all come from donations, authorities have announced.

Many Chinese don't necessarily understand the profound meaning of this reform. Five years ago, I was personally involved in developing a report entitled, "Where Do Organs Come From?" published in Caijing Magazine. The report told the shocking story of a murder case in which the corpse of a homeless man was discovered with all his organs removed.

The story also revealed shocking information about China's organ trading. From 1960 until 2006, China was the only country in the world harvesting organs from executed prisoners as the only source for transplants.

Since then, China has been striving to make the process of organ transplant more transparent and morally acceptable. In the beginning, nobody predicted that this would be a hard road. In China, more than a million people wait each year for an organ transplant while on average only 10,000 of those will receive one. The majority of their donors are from death row. People used to regard this as reasonable.

But while most countries have abandoned using the organs of executed prisoners, China still systematically uses them, and it has become a shame on Chinese people that the country finally plans to deal with.

From a medical point of view, it is unhealthy to conduct a transplant procedure right after an execution because of the limitations in location and technique. Various infections are common, which reduce the chances of a successful transplant. China has lost opportunities for research cooperation because the international medical community has frowned on the country's methods.

From a social point of view, harvesting the organs of executed prisoners involves too many economic interests. The prevalence of trading for money has corrupted China's judicial and medical professions.

In 2005, at the World Health Organization meeting for organ transplants held in the Philippines, Chinese authorities made it clear for the first time that it would reform its organ transplant system with progressive legislation.

Thereafter, China criminalized organ trading. Other regulations now also expressly prohibit organ transplant tourism and identify the right of citizens to organ donation.

Meanwhile, to solve the sourcing problem, China's Ministry of Health and the Red Cross of China launched a pilot scheme to encourage voluntary organ donation. As a result, an initial organ donation system has taken shape in China.

Still, it's not smooth sailing yet. It will be a difficult task to interrupt the economic chain of profit from the organs of executed criminals. In recent years, the number of approvals for China's death penalty has dropped, meaning that the number of organs available from executed prisoners has declined sharply.

Meanwhile, there are six million natural deaths in China every year. Even if just 1% of those people donated their organs, it could benefit 60,000 people, more or less meeting current clinical needs.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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