2006-06-18

Mobile and Morbid

The Middle Kingdom under the present Mao Dynasty is always good for warm, fuzzy human interest stories. Here's one from USA Today: how a fleet of 'death vans' not only facilitates the mind-boggling number of executions that take place in China, but the illegal organ harvesting industry from which local officials stand to profit.

For years, foreign human rights groups have accused China of arbitrary executions and cruelty in its use of capital punishment. The exact number of convicts put to death is a state secret. Amnesty International estimates there were at least 1,770 executions in China in 2005 — vs. 60 in the United States, but the group says on its website that the toll could be as high as 8,000 prisoners.

The "majority are still by gunshot," says Liu Renwen, death penalty researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a think tank in Beijing. "But the use of injections has grown in recent years, and may have reached 40%."

China's critics contend that the transition from firing squads to injections in death vans facilitates an illegal trade in prisoners' organs.

Injections leave the whole body intact and require participation of doctors. Organs can "be extracted in a speedier and more effective way than if the prisoner is shot," says Mark Allison, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. "We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the involvement of (Chinese) police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade."


USA Today reports that at least 40 vehicles have been produced.

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