The Chinese Communist Party has now officially admitted that the harvesting of organs for transplant from executed prisoners is standard practice in China. Of course, this was well-known anyway, but in the Orwellian world of Chinese politics things do not happen unless the Party says that they happen. So, why have they chosen this moment to bring this out into the open?
The Chinese death penalty is undergoing a soup-to-nuts revision right now. It is accepted that, although China’s precise execution figures are a state secret (probably because they’re embarrassed to admit that they have no idea what the actual figure is), the Party executes more people every year than the rest of the world put together. This figure could soon be falling, as new laws have recently been put in place to improve the oversight of death penalty cases. The old system allowed pretty much any judge to sentence someone to death. This was obviously subject to the most appalling abuses and corruption, and there have been a number of high-profile incidents where some poor stooge has been shot in the back of the head for “murder”, and not too long afterwards the victim has wandered back into town having been away visiting his mother, or something. Under the new laws, executions must be approved by the Supreme Peoples’ Court. It is thought this will reduce executions by one-third to one-half.
That’s if the law works, of course. There is a massive gulf in China between the existence of laws and their enforcement. In fact, the sale of transplant organs from the freshly-executed is also illegal, but that doesn’t stop it happening. The rule of law, in China, is very much subject to market forces, apparently against the will of the Party who have declared that official corruption is itself a capital crime.
It doesn’t help that recently implemented changes to the way the death penalty is carried out have actually facilitated organ theft. The old system of executions involved dragging a prisoner into a stadium, or to some isolated rural location, and shooting them in the back of the head with a hollow-point bullet. The old story about the condemned’s family being sent an invoice for the cost of the bullet is true. But it doesn’t usually happen that way any more.
Back in June of 2006, the Party began an innovative new approach to executions. Mobile execution chambers. Here’s one:
(Activism sidebar: These things are made by Iveco, which is a subsidiary of Fiat. If you’re an Amnesty International member in good standing, you might want to consider boycotting Fiat for their support of the Chinese death penalty. I boycott them because they make shitty little cars.)
These ominous vehicles, at least 40 of which are rolling around China at any given time, are used for the administration of lethal injections. It is much easier to harvest organs after a lethal injection – the process leaves the body intact, and there is the advantage that medical staff are on-hand. The new procedures also make a point of delivering the body for cremation immediately after execution – making it impossible to tell if the body was intact or cannibalised for parts. The family receives only the ashes.
Is this an unforeseen side-effect of the Party’s attempts to make China’s executions more humane? Certainly, a Party official at a diplomatic event in Germany has said that the aim – in the long run – was for China to abolish the death penalty altogether.
Let’s hope that the admission from the Party heralds a concerted attempt to enforce the law regarding organ theft. The last thing that any society needs is a legal system that allows those in power to profit substantially from ordering executions.