The four doctors from eastern China were sentenced to between 12 and 28 months of imprisonment in July last year after being found guilty for their roles in illegally extracting the liver and two kidneys of hospital patient Li Peng after her death.
An expert on the issue suggests that the Chinese regime used the story to deflect attention away from its state-sanctioned practice of forced organ harvesting, noting that the case was uncharacteristically reported by state-run media without censorship.
World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG) chair Wang Zhiyuan said in a recent interview with the Chinese-language edition of the Epoch Times that China used the case to spin a narrative around organ harvesting in the country by trying to create a story that these crimes are committed by individuals and that the Chinese authorities are trying to stop them.
According to Wang, China's state-sanctioned practice of harvesting organs from prisoners is an expansive endeavor involving cooperation among government agencies affiliated with the Chinese regime's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the Chinese military, police units, military police and regional government agencies.
Li's liver reportedly ended up at the People's Liberation Army (PLA) No. 302 Hospital in Beijing while her kidneys went to Tianjin First Central Hospital. Both hospitals have been identified by WOIPFG as suspected centers for the forced extraction of organs from prisoners who practice Falun Gong.
The PLA hospital has carried out 310 liver transplant surgeries between April 2005 and April 2010 and 146 between May 2010 and December 2012, according to the WOIPFG.
Adherents of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline also known as Falun Dafa which China banned in the 1990s, have been targeted for persecution by the Chinese regime since 1999. Millions of practitioners have been thrown into prisons, labor camps, psychiatric wards and other facilities, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
In the 2000s, reports emerged that the Chinese communist regime was systematically killing detained Falun Gong practitioners for their organs to use for transplantation. China didn't have an official organ donation program at the time, and Chinese officials said organs mainly came from executed prisoners.
Amid the growing scrutiny of China's organ transplant system, the regime announced that it would stop sourcing organs from executed prisoners and that it would exclusively rely on voluntary donations starting Jan. 1, 2015. However, China's claim was refuted by a London-based international tribunal in a 2019 report.
Some of the more than 1.5 million detainees in Chinese prison camps are being killed for their organs to serve a booming transplant trade that is worth some $1 billion a year, concluded the tribunal – an independent body tasked with investigating organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in the authoritarian state.
"Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale," the tribunal stated in its final judgment, adding that the practice is "of unmatched wickedness – on a death for death basis – with the killings by mass crimes committed in the last century."
In a statement released alongside the final judgment, the tribunal said many of those affected were practitioners of Falun Gong. The tribunal added that it was possible that Uyghur Muslims were also being targeted. (Related: Undercover investigators expose mass forced organ harvesting in communist China.)
An investigative report by the Epoch Times in 2016 concluded that tens of thousands may have been killed at Tianjin First Central Hospital, as the hospital carried out more transplants than the supply of organs from executed prisoners could support.
On April 13, the WOIPFG released an investigative report into the Jiangsu People's Hospital, a state-run hospital located in the eastern Jiangsu Province's capital Nanjing.
According to the report, a doctor at the hospital didn't deny that they sourced transplant organs from Falun Gong adherents when answering a phone inquiry by a WOIPFG investigator who posed as a Chinese official in November 2018. The doctor also said that a liver transplant surgery could be arranged in less than two weeks.
The report also included a 2017 audio recording of a phone conversation between a WOIPFG investigator who posed as someone making inquiries about liver transplant surgeries and an unnamed liver transplant doctor at the hospital.
The doctor said an organ could be available in as little as two weeks, a waiting time shorter than that at the nearby Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital.
Two of the four convicted doctors in Li's case worked at Jiangsu People's Hospital and Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital, which are both on WOIPFG's list of hospitals likely to be involved in forced organ harvesting.
The doctors and their two accomplices were charged after Li's son, Shi Xianglin, alerted authorities that his mother's donation record was not registered in China's official donation database. Shi began to suspect after he discovered that his cousin Shi Zijun was paid 200,000 yuan ($30,820) two days after his mother's organs were removed.
Donors are not to be compensated under China's official organ donation program, according to Chinese authorities.
Li died at the People's Hospital in Huaiyuan County on Feb. 15, 2018. Four days earlier, she had been rushed to the intensive care unit (ICU) after being wounded by her stepson during an ax attack. After spending a day in the ICU, Li was determined to be in critical condition with signs of imminent respiratory failure.
According to reports, a certain Dr. Yang persuaded Li's husband and daughter to sign a voluntary organ donation form by promising that they would be paid. Yang was the doctor looking after Li and was the deputy chief physician and director of the hospital's ICU.
Yang initially promised that the family would be paid 160,000 yuan ($24,657), but he increased the payment to 200,000 yuan at the demand of Li's nephew Shi Zijun. Li's husband and daughter signed the form on Feb. 14, 2018, one day before Li's death.
The money was reportedly paid by local businessman Huang Chaoyang, who was also sentenced to 10 months in prison over his role in the unauthorized organ extraction. Huang was a businessman selling medical equipment.
Yang supposedly called Dr. Huang Xinli, chief physician at the Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital, about an organ extraction. Huang made the decision that Li's organs would be suitable for organ transplantation surgery, local media reported. Prior to his employment there, Huang had worked at Jiangsu People's Hospital.
According to state-run media, Huang then arranged to have his former colleague Dr. Lu Shen and Dr. Wang Hailang remove Li's organs in an ambulance. Lu was the chief physician in hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery at the Jiangsu People's Hospital while Wang was a doctor in stomatology at the Huaibei Miners General Hospital in Anhui.
Li's organs were removed immediately after her death. The unlicensed ambulance where the surgery took place was owned by Ou Yang, who received a sentence of one year and one month in the same trial as businessman Huang Chaoyang and the four doctors. All four doctors were convicted of the crime intentional destruction of a corpse.
While Lu was found liable for extracting organs from Li only, the other three doctors were found guilty of engaging in unauthorized organ procurement surgeries on 10 other individuals in Huaiyuan County between 2017 and 2019. Lu was sentenced to one year in prison while Huang, Yang and Wang were sentenced to two years and four months, two years and two months and two years in prison, respectively.
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