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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China's hi-tech 'death van' where criminals are executed and then their organs are sold on black market

April 6, 2009

Tibet Custom
April 4, 2009

Death will come soon for Jiang Yong. A corrupt
local planning official with a taste for the high
life, Yong solicited money from businessmen eager
to expand in China's economic boom.

Showering gifts on his mistress, known as Madam
Tang, the unmarried official took more than £1
million in bribes from entrepreneurs wanting
permission to build skyscrapers on land which had
previously been protected from development.

But Yong, a portly, bespectacled figure, was
caught by the Chinese authorities during a purge
on corrupt local officials last year.

He confessed and was sentenced to death. China
executed 1,715 people last year, so one more death would hardly be remarkable.

But there will be nothing ordinary about Yong's
death by lethal injection. Unless he wins an
appeal, he will draw his final breath strapped
inside a vehicle that has been specially
developed to make executions more cost-effective and efficient.

In chilling echoes of the 'gas-wagon' project
pioneered by the Nazis to slaughter criminals,
the mentally ill and Jews, this former member of
the China People's Party will be handcuffed to a
so-called 'humane' bed and executed inside a
gleaming new, hi-tech, mobile 'death van.'

After trials of the mobile execution service were
launched quietly three years ago - then hushed up
to prevent an international row about the abuse
of human rights before the Olympics last summer -
these vehicles are now being deployed across China.

The number of executions is expected to rise to a
staggering 10,000 people this year (not an
impossible figure given that at least 68 crimes -
including tax evasion and fraud - are punishable by death in China).

Developed by Jinguan Auto, which also makes
bullet-proof limousines for the new rich in this
vast country of 1.3 billion people, the vans appear unremarkable.

They cost £60,000, can reach top speeds of 80mph
and look like a police vehicle on patrol. Inside,
however, the 'death vans' look more like operating theatres.

Executions are monitored by video to ensure they
comply with strict rules, making it possible to
describe precisely how Jiang Yong will die. After
being sedated at the local prison, he will be
loaded into the van and strapped to an electric-powered stretcher.

This then glides automatically towards the centre
of the van, where doctors will administer three
drugs: sodium thiopental to cause
unconsciousness; pancuronium bromide to stop
breathing and, finally, potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Death is reputed to be quick and painless - not
that there is anyone to testify to this. The idea
for such a 'modern' scheme is rooted in one of
the darkest episodes in human history.

The Nazis used adapted vans as mobile gas
chambers from 1940 until the end of World War II.
In order to make the best use of time spent
transporting criminals and Jewish prisoners,
Hitler's scientists developed the vehicles with a
hermetically sealed cabin that was filled with
carbon monoxide carried by a tube from the exhaust pipes.

The vans were first tested on child patients in a
Polish psychiatric hospital in 1940. The Nazis
then developed bigger models to carry up to 50
prisoners. They looked like furniture removal
vans. Those to be killed were ordered to hand
over their valuables, then stripped and locked inside.

As gas was pumped into the container and the van
headed towards graves being dug by other
prisoners, the muffled cries of those inside
could be heard, along with banging on the side.

With the 'cargo' dead, all that remained was for
gold fillings to be hacked from the victims'
mouths, before the bodies were tipped into the graves.

Now, six decades later, just like the Nazis,
China insists these death vans are 'progress'.

The vans save money on building execution
facilities in prisons or courts. And they mean
that prisoners can be executed locally, closer to
communities where they broke the law.

'This deters others from committing crime and has
more impact,' said one official.

Indeed, a spokesman for the makers of the 'death
vans' openly touted for trade this week, saying
they are the perfect way to 'efficiently and
cleanly' dispatch convicts with lethal
injections. Reporting steady sales throughout
China, a spokesman for Jinguan Auto - which is
situated in a green valley an hour's drive from
Chongqing in south-western China - said the firm
was bucking the economic trend and had sold ten more vans recently.

The exact number in operation is a state secret.
But it is known that Yunnan province alone has 18
mobile units, while dozens of others are
patrolling in five other sprawling provinces.
Each van is the size of a specially refitted 17-seater minibus.

'We have not sold our execution cars to foreign
countries yet,' beamed a proud spokesman. But if
they need one, they could contact our company directly.'

Officials say the vehicles are a 'civilised
alternative' to the traditional single shot to
the head (used in 60 per cent of Chinese
executions), ending the life of the condemned
quickly, clinically and safely - proving that
China 'promotes human rights now,' says Kang
Zhongwen, designer of the 'death van'.

It seems a perverse claim, but certainly the
shootings can be gruesome. Once carried out in
public parks, these executions -sometimes done in
groups - have seen countless cases of prisoners
failing to die instantly and writhing in agony on
the ground before being finished off.

There are other concerns: soldiers carrying out
the shooting complain that they are splashed with
Aids-contaminated blood. After the shooting,
relatives are often presented with the bullet
hacked from the condemned's body - and forced to
pay the price of the ammunition.

While posing as a modernising force in public,
Chinese leaders remain brutal within their own
borders. They are, however, anxious to be seen to
be moving away from violence against their own
people, stressing that all judicial decisions
have been taken out of the hands of vengeful
local officials and must be ruled on from Beijing.

China has traditionally always taken a ruthless,
unemotional view of crime and punishment. Before
injections and bullets, the most chilling
sentence was death by Ling Chi - death by a
thousand cuts - which was abolished only in 1905.

The condemned man was strapped to a table and
then, in what was also known as 'slow slicing', his eyes were gouged out.

This was designed to heighten the terror of not
being able to see what part of his body would
suffer next. Using a sharp knife, the executioner
sliced at the condemned's body - chopping off the
ears, fingers, nose and toes, before starting to cut off whole limbs.

Traditionalists insisted that exactly 3,600
slices were made. The new mobile execution vans
may, indeed, be more humane than this, but their
main advantage in official eyes is financial.

According to undercover investigations by human
rights' groups, the police, judiciary and doctors
are all involved in making millions from China's
huge trade in human body parts.

Inside each 'death van' there is a dedicated team
of doctors to 'harvest' the organs of the
deceased. The injections leave the body intact
and in pristine condition for such lucrative work.

After checking that the victim is dead, the
medical team first remove the eyes. Then, wearing
surgical gowns and masks, they remove the kidney, liver, pancreas and lungs.

Little goes to waste, though the heart cannot be
used, having been poisoned by the drugs.

The organs are dispatched in ice boxes to
hospitals in the sprawling cities of Beijing,
Shanghai and Guangzhou, which have developed
another specialist trade: selling the harvested organs.

At clinics all over China, these organs are
transplanted into the ailing bodies of the
wealthy - and thousands more who come as 'organ
tourists' from neighbouring countries such as
Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.

Chinese hospitals perform up to 20,000 organ
transplants each year. A kidney transplant in
China costs £5,000, but can rise to £30,000 if
the patient is willing to pay more to obtain an organ quickly.

With more than 10,000 kidney transplants carried
out each year, fewer than 300 come from voluntary
donations. The British Transplantation Society
and Amnesty International have condemned China
for harvesting prisoners' organs.

Laws introduced in 2006 make it an offence to
remove the organs of people against their will,
and banned those under 18 from selling their organs.

But, tellingly, the law does not cover prisoners.

'Organs can be extracted in a speedier and more
effective way using these vans than if the
prisoner is shot,' says Amnesty International.

'We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the
involvement of Chinese police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade.'

The bodies cannot be examined. Corpses are driven
to a crematorium and burned before independent witnesses can view them.

A police official, who operates a
'multi-functional and nationwide, first-class,
fixed execution ground' where prisoners are shot,
confirmed to the Mail that it is always a race
against time to save the organs of the executed -
and that mobile death vans are better equipped for the job.

'The liver loses its function only five minutes
after the human cardiac arrest,' the officer told our researcher.

'The kidney will become dysfunctional 30 minutes
after cardiac arrest. So the removal of organs
must be completed at the execution ground within
15 minutes, then put in an ice box or preservation solution.'

While other countries worry about the morality of
the death penalty, China has no such qualms.

For the Beijing regime, it is not a question of
whether they should execute offenders, but how to
do it most efficiently - and make the most money from it.

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