WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

An international tribunal has found that China is harvesting and trading the organs of prisoners, despite denials from Beijing.

Sky News reports that the China Tribunal says it is "satisfied" that Beijing is continuing to harvest and trade organs, despite a 2015 pledge to stop using executed inmates as a source of organ transplants.

In particular, the tribunal said, followers of the spiritual practice Falun Gong were being targeted as a source for "forced organ harvesting" in recent years.

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Uighur Muslims are likely to have suffered similar treatment, the tribunal said.

Chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who led the international prosecution of Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, the tribunal alleged in a new report that hospitals could request organs to be extracted "on demand" from donors without their consent.

The report claimed China was guilty of crimes against humanity, although Beijing has repeatedly denied allegations of forced organ harvesting.

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC chaired the China Tribunal.
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC chaired the China Tribunal.

The tribunal heard evidence about brutal detention conditions in Xinjiang detention camps in China's northwest.

Sky News reports that Jennifer Zeng, 52, was arrested for following Falun Gong. She said she was held against her will, physically and mentally tortured, and kept in cramped conditions at a labour camp in 2000.

Her blood was tested and her organs were scanned, but she was freed from the camp after pretending to reform.

Jennifer Zeng gave evidence about her time in a detention camp.
Jennifer Zeng gave evidence about her time in a detention camp.

She told Sky News: "Only at that stage, I realised what a narrow escape I had. If I had not told the doctor I have had hepatitis C, I could have become a victim as well."

The tribunal heard stories of doctors removing organs from living patients.

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Many of the prisoners who allegedly had their organs harvested were executed beforehand, but the tribunal was told stories of doctors removing organs while a patient was still alive.

Dr Enver Tohti, a former surgeon from Xinjiang, admitted that he had removed organs from a living prisoner during the oppression of Falun Gong, Sky News reports.

Dr Enver Tohti.
Dr Enver Tohti.

The surgeon said that in 1995, he was ordered to enter a field and operate on a man who had been shot in the chest.

Dr Tohti told Sky News: "I became like a robot to carry out the duty I was programmed for. When I cut through, the man tried to resist but he was too weak to resist my insertion [of the scalpel]. When my scalpel cut through his skin I could see bleeding. That indicates the heart is still pumping blood, so he was still alive. I just carried on doing my job."

The man's liver and kidneys, which took just half an hour to remove, were placed in a box. Dr Tohti claimed he was told by the official in charge: "Remember, nothing happened today."

The Chinese transplant trade is estimated to be a $1.5 billion industry, with a liver being valued at $235,000.

In 2016, the Bloody Harvest report estimated that 60,000 to 100,000 organs are transplanted each year in Chinese hospitals.

There are a suspected 1.5 million prisoners of conscience in China, including Falun Gong, Uighur Muslims, Christians and Tibetan Buddhists.

In 2018, the UN cited reports that one million Uighurs were in different camps and centres in the country, although China responded that they "enjoy equal freedom and rights".

A statement from the Chinese Embassy said: "The Chinese government always follows the World Health Organization's guiding principles on human organ transplant, and has strengthened its management on organ transplant in recent years."