LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Chinese-Canadian rights activist and Miss World finalist urged British lawmakers on Tuesday to take action against alleged organ-harvesting in China after being invited to screen her film about the trade in parliament.
Beijing has repeatedly denied accusations by human rights researchers and scholars that it forcibly takes organs from prisoners of conscience.
But actor and beauty pageant queen Anastasia Lin said China, which does not have a culture of organ donation, had consistently failed to explain where it sources the thousands of organs it uses in transplant operations each year.
“This screening will hopefully bring awareness to the issue of forced organ-harvesting in China, which deserves urgent attention from the international community,” she said ahead of Tuesday’s showing of “The Bleeding Edge”.
Coinciding with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s first visit to China for the G20 summit, the screening in parliament marked the film’s premiere in Britain.
Lin, who made headlines last year when China excluded her from a Miss World final it was hosting, urged Britain to condemn forced organ harvesting, outlaw organ transplant tourism and slap travel bans on surgeons involved in the trade.
In June, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution expressing concern over “persistent and credible reports” of systematic state-sponsored organ-harvesting in China from prisoners of conscience. The European Parliament has passed a similar resolution.
China has previously said that surgeons carry out around 10,000 transplants annually, but Canadian researchers who have trawled through individual hospital records estimated this year that the number could be up to 10 times higher.
Until recently, China took organs from executed prisoners, but Lin said there was a massive gap between the number of executions and the number of transplants.
Two years ago China announced it would stop using organs from executed prisoners and was building a voluntary national donation system.
But experts say traditional Chinese beliefs that bodies should be buried or cremated intact means there is no tradition of organ donation as in the West.
“Because there is no voluntary donation, every donation has to be either bought or forcibly taken from someone,” Lin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
Lin, who has previously testified before the U.S. Congress, European Parliament, British Parliament and Taiwan’s legislature, said there was evidence that some organs came from members of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in China.
Rights activists believe other organs may come from Christians from underground churches, Uighur Muslims or Tibetan Buddhists.
China dismissed the allegations but did not respond to questions about the source of its transplant organs.
“China has strict laws and regulations on transplants,” the Chinese embassy in London said in an email.
“The so-called ‘organ harvesting’ is a fabrication of the Falun Gong cult. We hope that the British side will not be misled by Falun Gong’s lies nor provide a platform for its deceptive tricks.”
Lin said the fact that Chinese hospitals performed transplant operations on demand was also extremely suspicious, suggesting the authorities kept data on a pool of potential living donors.
“The hospitals claim they can get the organ within two weeks and can schedule the surgery in advance - you can choose to do it in the morning or the afternoon,” she said. “That’s unheard of in the West.”
In “The Bleeding Edge”, Lin plays a Falun Gong practitioner who is tortured and killed before having her heart removed.
Although the film is fictional, Lin said it was closely based on the accounts of torture victims she had interviewed and the testimony of a former prison guard.
“Every single scene is stitched together from numerous victims’ testimonies,” she said. “These are real stories combined in one character.”
Lin admitted it was difficult getting evidence of organ-harvesting because of a lack of witnesses.
But she said researchers posing as patients wanting transplants had been told by doctors that organs came from Falun Gong practitioners.
She said families of Falun Gong practitioners who had died in custody also reported receiving the bodies of their loved ones with organs missing.
“These cases are really alarming and extremely suspicious,” said Lin, who was set to address lawmakers and academics at Tuesday night’s screening.
The 26-year-old actress, who moved to Canada when she was 13 with her mother, an economics professor, said her father who is still in China had received visits from security officials over her activism.
Crowned Miss Canada in 2015, Lin admitted that her participation in beauty pageants meant people might not initially take her seriously, but said the contests gave her a platform she would not otherwise have.
Lin plans to compete for the 2016 Miss World title in December, this time in Washington, and says if she gets the chance she will speak out on organ harvesting.
Reporting by Emma Batha; editing by Timothy Large; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.