09/16/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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First conviction for human organ trafficking in Beijing

Under Chinese law, organ trafficking is not a crime per se; thus, traffickers were convicted for “illegal business operation”. So far, the authorities have tolerated the practice or even used death row prisoners’ organs for transplant.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Haidian District People's Court in Beijing convicted seven people on human trafficking charges, imposing sentences ranging from two years to seven years eight months. Human organ trafficking is a major problem in China, a practice that includes a price list according to organs. People from around the world come to the mainland for transplants.

This is the first sentence of its kind in Beijing. The charge was “illegal business operation” because Chinese law does not consider organ trafficking as a crime. Moreover, the authorities have until recently been quite tolerant in the matter.

According to court records, the seven people were convicted of trafficking one to five organs each, being paid 100,000 to 580,000 yuan (US$ 15,000 to US$ 86,000) by patients' families.

On average, about 1.5 million transplants are needed in the country to meet demand, but only 10,000 organs are actually donated. Hence, organ trafficking is booming.

The father of a patient who received a kidney transplant wrote a mitigation letter to the court, saying that organ traffickers actually saved his child's life at a time when tens of thousands of patients were waiting for a transplant.

However, such “trade” exploits the poverty of organ “sellers” and enriches traffickers. According to figures from three years ago, a kidney transplant cost US$ 62,000, a heart transplant, US$ 140,000.

The problem is so widespread that organs are offered on the internet, price included. Every year, thousands come from abroad for a transplant in China.

Human rights groups have accused Chinese authorities of allowing trafficking of organs taken from prisoners, for instance, members of Falun Gong. Some go so far as to charge Beijing of keeping thousands of death row prisoners alive until their organs are needed.

Officially, 86,800 kidney transplants were performed in China last year, including 14,643 liver transplants, 882 heart and lung transplants, plus 220 transplants of other organs.

Prison officials have only partially denied charges that prisoners’ organs are harvested, saying that when organs are donated they are on the expressed instruction of detainees. To prove their point, they have produced letters signed by prisoners to that have effect. However, it is difficult to verify the authenticity of such claims.

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