No asylum for Chinese organ whistleblower

Chinese security forces patrol the streets of Urumqi, Xinjiang province last year after violent protests. Keystone

A former Chinese policeman who says he saw organs being harvested from executed prisoners in his country wants asylum in Switzerland and is refusing to leave.

This content was published on July 29, 2010 - 18:06

Swiss officials tried to deport the man on Thursday. The Federal Migration Office says that by law Rome must handle the man’s case, because he first arrived in Europe via Italy.

“The case has been well studied and is very clear legally,” said Michael Glauser, Migration Office spokesman. The man, a Uighur, arrived in Italy two years ago before eventually making his way to Switzerland.

The man's refusal to board a flight bound for Italy leaves Switzerland with two options. Officials could contact Italian authorities to organise another flight or they could work to process the man's application themselves under Swiss law.

Amnesty International has criticised the Swiss decision to deport the man, saying his case shows the dangers of regulations that determine how European countries share responsibility for processing asylum requests. It also sheds new light on severe human rights violations in China, where the death penalty “is a state secret”, the group said.

“Switzerland needs a new outlook,” Manon Schick, a spokeswoman with Switzerland’s Amnesty International office told

“It mustn’t turn down people when there are indications that they cannot submit an application in the country where they were first (in Europe) in an acceptable manner and with a procedure that respects their rights.”

The man claims he once worked for China’s secret police, which helped carry out death sentences on prisoners. The condemned were allegedly wounded by firing squads so as to keep them alive until their organs could be removed, according to the man’s testimony.

The man would have been working at execution sites from 1993 to 1997 in the Muslim region of Xinjiang in northeast China, the Geneva-based Le Temps newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Credible story?

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” the newspaper quoted the man’s testimony. “I wanted to vomit.”

He left China in 2007, first for Dubai and later for Europe. He arrived in Rome in 2008 and Italian authorities granted him a Schengen visa that permits travel between 27 European countries, including Switzerland. He then went to Oslo, Norway, before finally arriving in Switzerland on November 9, 2009.

While European law clearly states that Italy must process the man’s asylum application as it was the first point of entry, Amnesty International says the situation creates significant human rights problems.

“We know that not all of the countries act in the same way in Europe in terms of asylum applications,” Schick said. “In Greece and Italy, for example, the procedures are not acceptable.”

She said that Amnesty International has no additional information on the alleged policeman’s case but considers it credible.

“I believe it is a story that can be very real,” Schick said.

“A person who works in the death penalty field in China, be it a policeman or a doctor, and who divulges information about it to another country has a high risk of being persecuted. Since the death penalty is a state secret in China, it’s very dangerous to talk about it.”

Reports in Geneva

Amnesty International already has information about possible connections between the death penalty in Asian countries (where thousands of people are executed each year) and organ trafficking. However, Schick agrees with other researchers who say there is little data on the matter.

“Very clear research doesn’t exist so that’s a problem,” Schick said. “But this policeman probably could have given a lot of information about what’s happening in China or what happened in the 1990s.”

She recalled a Chinese citizen, now in exile who had spent time in China with people sentenced to death. That person provided ample testimony on the subject during an international conference on the death penalty held in February in Geneva.

He explained that before a prisoner was executed, a doctor would come in and determine a person’s blood type, a critical factor in organ transplants.

“He told us that many people he knew who were executed had their organs taken out and transferred in China.”

In addition to the testimony of the two Chinese citizens, though few, there are other reports that allow one to assume that organ trafficking could be highly organised in China.

“And Chinese authorities certainly have no interest in that information being made public,” Schick said.

Marcela Águila Rubín, (Translated from Spanish by Tim Neville)

Death by state

In March 2009 Amnesty International criticised China for failing to disclose the number of people it had executed, a figure believed to be higher than the rest of the world combined.

Iran had the second-highest number of executions in 2009, Amnesty International said in a report. It adds that about one-third of the 388 death sentences occurred during the eight weeks of violence surrounding the disputed presidential elections in June.

Eighteen countries executed a total of at least 714 people last year. More than 2,000 people were condemned to death in 56 countries.

Amnesty International said that its figures are conservative and that they don’t include China’s count, which the human rights group believes to have surpassed 1,000.

Excluding China, Iraq ranked third on the list with 120 executions.

Methods included hanging, firing squad, decapitations, stoning, electrocutions and lethal injections.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been called out for executing minors, which violates international law, according to Amnesty International.

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Roche involvement in China transplants

The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche was harshly criticised by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) earlier this year for supporting China’s “unethical transplantation practices”.

Roche received two “shame” prizes at the Public Eye Awards in Davos for conducting research on transplant patients in China without knowing the origin of the organs donated.

It was “highly likely” that some of the organs used in a Roche study in China were taken from executed prisoners, the source of 90 per cent of all transplanted organs in the country, according to the Berne Declaration and Greenpeace Switzerland.

Roche is testing the effectiveness of the drug Cell Cept on hundreds of kidney and liver transplant patients. The drug weakens the body’s immune system so it is more likely to accept a transplanted organ.

Roche responded to the criticism saying that it did not have the right to know the origins of the organs used, but that the company was “working to improve the situation" in the hope that the Chinese authorities would conform to these standards.

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