Blindfolded and in pain: Chilling details of illegal kidney traffickers revealed

Investigations into an illicit organ harvesting gang in Wuhan reveal chilling details

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 12:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 5:51pm


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Authorities have cracked down on an illegal kidney harvesting operation in Hubei province's Wuhan, shedding light on the horrific practices of underground organ traffickers.

Authorities from the Wuhan Public Security Bureau arrested more than 10 members of a kidney trafficking group on August 17, Chutian Metropolis Daily reported in a feature story. The group consisted of various personnel, including a professional medical team with a surgeon, two nurses and an anaesthetist. These traffickers had been carrying out both kidney removals and transplant operations in a nondescript villa in the Jiangxia district of Wuhan.

Police said it was rare to see a trafficking group carrying out kidney transplant operations, which require more medical expertise than the standard removal processes which most black market gangs specialise in.

“If they’re really carrying out both kidney removal and kidney transplant operations here at the same time, then that’s the first time I’ve heard of such a thing,” said a member of the investigation unit whose identity was not revealed in the Chutian Metropolis Daily report.

Reporters were first tipped off to the existence of the kidney traffickers by a whistleblower with the pseudonym, Li Wei. Li, who had fallen badly in debt, had considered selling his kidney after he had been propositioned by members of the trafficking gang over the Chinese QQ online messaging service.

After agreeing to surgery, Li met members of the gang at a variety of indiscreet locations. He was eventually shuffled off to a hospital for preliminary examination and then transferred to a secret villa in the Jiangxia district. On his trip to the villa, Li was blindfolded and his mobile phone confiscated. He can only recall fragmented details of his experience.

According to his testimony, the kidney removal surgery left him dazed and in pain, and the process occurred in a room where the windows were all covered and oxygen tanks and surgical instruments were lying around. His recovery period was complete in five days time, after which the leader of the black market gang, surnamed Xu, gave Li his payment – 30,000 yuan (HK$38,000). As he was recovering, Li overheard from nurses working for the gang that prospective kidney buyers were forced to pay 400,000 yuan (HK$ 507,000) for the illegally harvested organs. 

After investigating various keywords like “kidney” and “kidney selling” on QQ, reporters confirmed Li’s claims the traffickers were soliciting hundreds of potential kidney donors online. The gang’s villa was located after piecing together bits of information that Li was able to recount from the time he spent there, and after monitoring the hideout, the Wuhan Public Security Bureau launched a crackdown.

Chutian Metropolis Daily commentator Xiao Yang wrote in an online statement the existence of such an underground trafficking group was of great concern.

“We attach importance to [whistleblower Li’s claims and our investigation of this story] because we are distressed at the plight of those who must sell their kidneys and angry at the intermediary organisations that lack a proper conscience,” Xiao said. “We are unable to tolerate the illegal selling of human organs and the harm this practice deals to [society].”

The mainland currently outlaws organ donations from living donors other than blood relatives, which has given birth to a lucrative black market. 2007’s “Regulation on Human Organ Transplantation” formally prohibited the illicit sale or purchase of human organs in China, and a national programme was instituted in 2009 to co-ordinate kidney donations from deceased donors. Both efforts, however, have done little to stem the country’s tide of illegal organ harvesters.