The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted on Tuesday to advance a bill to sanction individuals implicated in China’s decades-long scheme of harvesting organs from political prisoners, a gruesome practice experts believe expanded significantly after the establishment of concentration camps for Muslims in 2017.
The bill, the Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act of 2023, was authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who last year organized a hearing in which experts on the subjects detailed the testimonies of concentration camp survivors, who observed camp victims typically about 28 years old disappearing after medical tests “in the middle of the night,” believed to be killed for their organs. In addition to Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims, the victims of dictator Xi Jinping’s concentration camp apparatus in occupied East Turkistan, members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have for decades accused China of killing their members to sell their organs on the international black market.
“Under Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, the cruelty of murdering between 60,000 to 100,000 young victims every year—average age 28—to steal their organs is unimaginable,” Smith said on Wednesday in a statement following the approval of his bill at the committee level. The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the House floor, where members will debate it and potentially pass it as a law.
The Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act – a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Bill Keating (D-MA) and Kathy Manning (D-NC) – would, among other provisions, require the U.S. government to engage in reporting on human trafficking to steal their organs and sanction individuals found participating in live organ harvesting and black market sales of stolen organs. The sanctions vary depending on the nationality of the person implicated: the Secretary of State may refuse to give a passport to an American convicted of violating laws against stealing organs, while the law allows the banning of foreigners implicated in the practice from American soil. Due to previously standing agreements with the United Nations, the law would not block an implicated foreigner – Xi Jinping, for example – from visiting the United Nations headquarters in New York, though it could potentially apply to the rest of the country.
The bill would, if it becomes law, also “block and prohibit all transactions in property and interests in property and makes that person inadmissible to the United States and ineligible to receive a visa,” according to Rep. Smith’s office.
Years of painstaking investigations by human rights activists, journalists, and experts on human trafficking have yielded a mountain of evidence suggesting that the Chinese Communist Party has been using political prisoners as unwilling organ donors since the 1990s. According to Enver Tohti, a Uyghur surgeon who has repeatedly testified to being forced to carve organs out of at least one prisoner, the practice likely began in East Turkistan, the Uyghur heartland, in at least 1990. Tohti asserts that, in 1995, Chinese communist officials forced him to carve the heart out of a man, appearing to be a prisoner, who had just received a gunshot wound to the head. The heart appeared to still be beating when he took the man’s kidneys and liver.
“My chief surgeons were happy to put those organs, a liver and two kidneys, into a weird looking box,” Tohti told the Canadian House of Commons. “Then they said: ‘Ok, now you take your team back to the hospital, and remember that nothing happened today.'”
Tohti’s revelations were pivotal to the first large-scale investigations into the Chinese government’s organ harvesting initiatives, “Bloody Harvest” and “The Slaughter,” by former Canadian lawmaker David Kilgour, human rights lawyer David Matas, and journalist Ethan Gutmann. The studies revealed that, in addition to Uyghur prisoners, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, and Christians were among those targeted. The researchers began their investigations noting discrepancies in China’s reported donated organs versus the number of transplants on the record at a national level.
Gutmann and Tohti testified to Rep. Smith’s hearing in May on forced organ harvesting, confirming that evidence suggests the practice is ongoing in the present.
“If we assume that at any given time since 2017, there are approximately a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Hui in the camps, my estimate is that 25,000 to 50,000 camp detainees are being harvested every year,” Gutmann explained. “Twenty-eight-year-olds from the Xinjiang [East Turkistan] camps can be theoretically harvested for two or three organs, translating into a minimum of 50,000 organs or a maximum of 150,000 organs.”
Gutmann urged the West to distance itself from the practice.
“We need to abolish all Western contact with the Mainland Chinese transplant industry,” he suggested. “No Chinese transplant surgeons in our medical journals, our universities, and our conferences. And a freeze on all sales of surgical equipment, pharmaceutical development, and testing in China.”
A study published by the Australian National University last year added further evidence that China uses political prisoners as unwilling donors – and added evidence to suggest that the theft of organs serves as a form of execution.
“The leader of China’s transplant sector wrote in 2007 that effectively 95% of all organ transplants were from prisoners,” the study found. “[G]iven that the donors could not have been brain dead before organ procurement, the declaration of brain death could not have been medically sound.”
“It follows that in these cases death must have been caused by the surgeons procuring the organ,” the researchers concluded. “If the reports we examine are accurate, they indicate that heart and lung procurement by the surgeon was the proximate cause of the prisoner’s death, thus directly implicating the surgeon in the execution.”