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Chinese medics killed death row inmates by taking hearts: Report | Death Penalty News

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Academic study finds doctors might have removed vital organs before the executed had been officially confirmed dead.

Hundreds of Chinese surgeons and medical personnel have been accused of killing death row prisoners by removing their hearts for transplant even before the inmates had been officially declared dead, in a new academic paper.

International guidelines on the ethics surrounding organ transplants state that organ removal must not cause the death of the donor, but the new research from the Australian National University published this week in the American Journal of Transplantation suggests Chinese surgeons might have done just that.

A forensic review of 2,838 reports in Chinese scientific journals revealed 71 cases where surgeons might have removed a patients’ heart or lungs before a “legitimate determination of brain death”. Brain death is typically defined as a medical state where a patient cannot survive without a ventilator.

The 71 cases in question all occurred between 1980 and 2015, an important cut-off date as it was also the year China officially banned organ harvesting from condemned prisoners. Before then, most organ transplants in China were believed to have come from executed convicts because voluntary organ donation was extremely limited.

The findings, according to study co-author and PhD researcher Matthew Robertson, were that Chinese surgeons might have carried out a final coup de grâce in an execution process that began in front of a firing squad or through lethal injection. Even if the prisoner survived that trauma, removing vital organs would cause certain death.

“We found that the physicians became the executioners on behalf of the state, and that the method of execution was heart removal,” Robertson said in a statement.

Researchers originally began their study with a data set of 124,770 publications from 1951 to 2020, but whittled cases down to 2,838 reports after filtering for heart and lung transplants. They finished their research by manually reviewing a total of 310 papers. Cases were flagged by researchers if they contained a “problematic brain death declaration,” where doctors did not check whether a patient could survive on a ventilator, or patients were only partially ventilated with a mask and did not have a tube inserted into the throat.

Researchers say these criteria suggest the patient’s body was kept alive for the purpose of organ procurement, which can be “highly profitable” for doctors and hospitals.

The surgeries in question also involved the participation of 348 “surgeons, nurses, anesthaesiologists, and other medical workers or researchers,” who were listed in the publications.

China considers data on the death penalty a state secret, but it is thought to be “the world’s most prolific executioner“, according to Amnesty International, and while organ harvesting from prisoners is officially banned in China, the secrecy makes it difficult to know whether the practice is continuing.

“Given the Chinese government’s poor and worsening human rights records in recent years, we should treat the authorities’ commitments to end the use of prisoner organs with scepticism,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

A 2019 UK-based tribunal on forced organ harvesting in China found that there was “no evidence that the significant infrastructure associated with China’s transplantation industry has been dismantled” and no explanation for how China’s organ transplant industry continued to function with extremely short waiting times. The tribunal further concluded that “forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale” and that most organs probably came from prisoners and practitioners of the banned Falun Gong religious movement.

A separate 2019 study by the ANU’s Robertson published in BMC Medical Ethics also raised questions about Chinese government data about organ transplants. The study found that numbers might have been falsified because they closely followed a simple mathematical formula known as the quadratic equation.



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‘Shattering the palace’: Young women take up Thailand reform call | Protests News

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Bangkok, Thailand – Tawan Tuatulanon glanced out of her vehicle’s rear window and noticed that state security forces were following dangerously close. She began recording a Facebook live video on her phone as she and her fellow monarchy reform activists discussed how they might evade the threat.

“The police are following us again,” 20-year-old Tawan told her live audience on Facebook last month. “This is not okay,” she murmured as the vehicle raced down a highway in the capital Bangkok.

Minutes earlier, the team of activists had been involved in a small scuffle at a protest where demonstrators were openly criticising the royal family near a royal motorcade. Three underage demonstrators were arrested, including a 13-year-old. During the attempted arrest, Tawan was hit in the eye by police and bruised her wrist and arm as she tried to protect the protesting children.

Already accustomed to the almost constant surveillance from intelligence officers, plainclothes police were now in pursuit of her team. The group pulled off the expressway and drove into a residential area. They then decided to get out of their vehicle and confront the apparent undercover officers.

“Why are you following us? Why don’t you come out and talk to us face to face?” Tawan barked at the police who hid inside their large black truck, and as a crowd of onlookers gathered. Eventually, the officers left.

Days after the incident on April 19, Tawan was arrested for allegedly violating her bail conditions in an ongoing royal defamation case related to a public poll she organised in February that questioned the Thai monarchy. Criticising the king, or ‘lese-majeste‘, is an offence punishable with up to 15 years in prison. Royal defamation under the Thai criminal code is referred to as Section 112, or as the public calls it simply “112.”

Changing tactics

Tawan is part of the underground anti-monarchy group, Thaluwang, a name that translates to ‘Shattering the Palace’.

It is made up mostly of young people in their 20s, using performance art, provocative stunts and other unusual tactics to question the king’s immense hold on power, actions that were taboo until only a couple of years ago.

A portrait of Maynu with pink hair and wearing a black face mask
Maynu wanted to be a game developer but joined  Thaluwang because she thinks Thailand needs to be reformed to give young people the opportunities they crave [Maynu via Facebook]

Also in the group is 18-year-old Supitcha ‘Maynu’ Chailom.

Maynu caught the country’s attention when she was photographed raising the three-finger salute in front of hundreds of university students in a symbol of defiance taken from the Hunger Games movie that has since come to define opposition to authoritarian regimes across Southeast Asia.

Now one of the prominent faces of a movement that wants to modernise the country, it was the group’s focus on intersectionality and gender equality that initially appealed to her.

“Thaluwang also supports gender equality and women’s rights, so this is one reason why I became involved in the organisation,” Maynu told Al Jazeera. Before joining the anti-government movement, Maynu had dreams of becoming a video game developer and designer. But now she says there are more important things to do.

“This country lacks space for young people’s dreams, games are still demonised in the press and blamed for many issues without looking at how parents raise their children and how this country does not support young people,” Maynu said. “So all of this combined has contributed to where we are now, and a few problematic institutions are still holding back Thailand, and they are powerful and scary to confront.”

Thaluwang has moved away from mass protests and speeches delivered to large crowds, instead adopting tactics that legal experts say are difficult to define as illegal. The approach is intended to make activists less vulnerable to legal harassment, but the crackdown has continued.

“We have observed that Thai authorities have increased undue restrictions on the right to protest,” Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, told Al Jazeera. “During the last few months, authorities have charged, detained and imprisoned activists, including children, denying them their right to bail or imposing harsh bail restrictions on them. Activists have reported surveillance and harassment.”

Faced with a lese-majeste charge – the latest in a long line of monarchy reform activists who have come under legal pressure – Tawan told Al Jazeera that she is not afraid.

“Especially regarding 112, my case really highlights how problematic the law is in Thailand,” she said. “Many people see us as young people who are just expressing our opinions. So I don’t see how doing this by definition is an insult to the monarchy. And if it is, then this will make people understand that this law needs to be abolished even more.”

Thaluwang runs a questionnaire on the street in Bangkok, asking passers-by to show their opinion
Thaluwang has turned away from traditional street protests to try other ways of getting its message across [Ginger Cat/Al Jazeera]

Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen, deputy police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that authorities are merely upholding the law.

“We were carrying out arrest warrants as they were wanted for violating serious laws,” said Kissana, referring to the arrest of Thaluwang activists in late April.

“We respect their rights as stated by the constitution. We are committed to protecting the people and believe in human rights. But if you violate the law, we have no choice but to enforce the law by our legal means.”

Years of resistance

For the past two years, protesters have been calling for former coup leader and now Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, and for new elections to be held. But it is their calls for royal reform that have sent shockwaves through the country.

Calling for public scrutiny of the Thai king broke longstanding taboos surrounding the monarchy in 2020, and mass protests sparked heated public debate over the role of the royal palace in the country’s politics.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who took the throne in 2016, is often criticised for his lavish lifestyle with estimates of his wealth starting at about $30bn. But critics say he is also bringing back absolute monarchy and controls the country’s military-backed leaders, a system that a new generation of Thais argues must be reformed for the nation to move forward.

For years, researchers have documented intimidation and surveillance of government critics at home, in the workplace and on university campuses.

But even with the democracy movement’s main leaders arrested, rights groups say the authorities have carried out surveillance, legal harassment and arrests of critics at an unprecedented level.

In interviews with more than 12 Thai activists over the past six months, Al Jazeera has documented allegations of surveillance and harassment, with some even speaking of physical torture or assault for demonstrating.

“Apart from using legal means to harass activists, the state authorities also harass citizens who simply post their opinions on Facebook,” said Wannaphat Jenroumjit, a lawyer for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) who works directly on ‘112’ cases in relation to activists calling for royal reform.

“They [the police] do so by following them or approaching them directly, or intimidating their family, or neighbours, telling them they are on the police watch list. But this sows suspicion among the community against them.”

Tawan, in a black t-short with red print gives the three-fingered Hunger Games salute which has become a symbol of resistance in Asia
Tawan makes the three-fingered Hunger Games salute, which has become a symbol of resistance among pro-democracy groups from Myanmar to Hong Kong [Ginger Cat/Al Jazeera]

Tawan and Maynu both say they have experienced intimidation.

Maynu has been followed by security forces and was verbally abused when she spent a day in detention.

Tawan says she has been pursued by police on numerous occasions. On one occasion, she told Al Jazeera, 10 officers entered her home and tried to convince her parents to force her to stop. Another day, two men on motorcycles almost ran her off the road, she claimed.

‘Costs for society’

According to THLR, at least 1,787 people have been prosecuted for participating in the Thai protests from 2020 to 2022. The group has documented at least 173 cases where people were charged with royal defamation over the same period.

Pikhaneth Prawang, another lawyer for TLHR, warns the approach could have broader implications for the country.

“Since the resumption of the use of ‘112’ at the end of 2020, the number of cases rose sharply,” Pikhaneth said.

“We’re seeing it used not only to target leaders, but now we’re seeing common people targeted as well. We are worried about how far this could go. Such a campaign could lead to high costs for society.”

Such costs could include a system where public trust is undermined, particularly in the judicial system. A continued erosion of trust could,  Pikhaneth fears, “lead to chaos in the future.”

Days after speaking to Al Jazeera in April, multiple Thaluwang activists were arrested.

Maynu has been released on bail, but Tawan is still in detention and on hunger strike.

Over the last two weeks, three other women who represent Thaluwang have also been detained without bail, including a 17-year-old girl. In response, dozens of protesters demonstrated in front of the United States embassy on May 11, handing in a petition calling on the US to urge Thailand to release political prisoners and stop the use of 112.

Before she was arrested, Tawan told Al Jazeera that despite the pressure, she would not be deterred.

“We have been followed by police and it makes us feel unsafe,” Tawan said. “But with Section 112, I’m still not afraid. If anything, it makes me feel that I need to fight even more, and I’ve mentally prepared myself to soon be in jail. So you could definitely say that I am a very different Tawan than I was before.”



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Bolsonaro gov’t threatening Brazilian democracy, jurists tell UN | Elections News

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Legal experts urge UN special rapporteur to visit Brazil to report on president’s attacks on Brazilian judicial bodies.

Brazil’s democracy and the independence of its judiciary are under threat from the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, a group of lawyers and legal experts have said in a petition to the United Nations, as the country prepares for elections in October.

The group of 80 jurists and legal researchers on Wednesday appealed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to visit Brazil and report on attacks on the Supreme Court and the Superior Electoral Court that oversees elections.

The courts face an unprecedented campaign of distrust and public threats to judges who decide against the government’s agenda, they said in their petition.

“Moreover, without any evidence, Bolsonaro publicly claims that the Brazilian electoral system can be and has been rigged, and has even claimed that the TSE judges are behind such alleged frauds,” the petition to the UN rapporteur read.

Facing a drop in popularity, Bolsonaro over the past several months has repeatedly claimed – without providing any evidence – that Brazil’s electronic voting system is vulnerable to fraud.

Critics and judicial experts have rejected his claims as baseless, accusing Bolsonaro of planning to use his fraud claims to contest the election results, similar to former United States President Donald Trump, whom Bolsonaro has emulated.

Earlier this month, the president said his party would seek an audit of the voting system before the election. He has also suggested that the armed forces, whose current and former members are employed throughout his government, should conduct their own parallel vote count.

On Wednesday, the president’s son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, said Brazil could face political instability if the electoral court did not provide more transparency about its voting system.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s petition said that Bolsonaro uttered a series of direct threats to the Supreme Court in a speech to a crowd of thousands of supporters in September of last year.

“The Brazilian Judiciary is under siege. Judicial independence in Brazil is facing challenges that are unprecedented since democratization in the 1980s,” the letter said.

Bolsonaro is facing a stiff challenge in his re-election bid from former left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who recently launched his presidential campaign and holds a clear lead over Bolsonaro, according to recent polls.



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HRW documents ‘apparent war crimes’ by Russian forces in Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war News

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Leading US-based rights group says Russian forces had subjected civilians to summary executions, torture and other grave abuses in two regions.

A leading human rights watchdog has accused Russian troops of carrying out summary executions, torture and other grave abuses in two regions of Ukraine, as it published a report documenting further cases of “apparent war crimes” by the invading forces.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report published on Wednesday documented 22 apparent summary executions, nine other unlawful killings, six possible enforced disappearances and seven cases of torture from late February through March.

Twenty-one civilians told HRW about unlawful confinement in inhuman and degrading conditions during the period the Russian forces controlled much of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, it said.

HRW called for the alleged abuses to be “impartially investigated and appropriately prosecuted”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Russia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to the Reuters news agency requests for comment on the HRW report. Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes and has accused Ukraine of staging atrocities to smear its forces.

Asked more broadly about war crimes allegations against Russian forces in Ukraine, Peskov told Reuters, “We consider it impossible and unacceptable to throw such terms around.”

“Many of the cases that Ukraine is talking about are obvious fakes, and the most egregious ones are staged, as has been convincingly proved by our experts,” he said.

Global outrage

There was a global outrage dozens of bodies, some with their hands bound, were found in towns, including Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital after invading Russian troops retreated from the area.

HRW said it had visited a total of 17 villages and small towns in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions and interviewed 65 people between April 10 and May 10, including former detainees, people who said they had survived torture, families of victims and other witnesses.

The report went further than a statement issued in April in which HRW said it had documented “several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations” in Russian-controlled regions such as Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv.

“The numerous atrocities by Russian forces occupying parts of northeastern Ukraine early in the war are abhorrent, unlawful, and cruel,” said Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These abuses against civilians are evident war crimes that should be promptly and impartially investigated and appropriately prosecuted.”

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” aimed at weakening its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capturing what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

A Kyiv district court on Wednesday began hearing its first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier who took part in Moscow’s February 24 invasion. The soldier, who is accused of murdering a 62-year-old civilian, told the court he pleaded guilty.

Ukraine has said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes in total.





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