In what is becoming a macabre annual ritual, the Chinese government used the United Nations' International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking to dramatize its renewed vigor in the endless war by executing 59 convicted drug traffickers (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/143.html#chinakillings and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/143.html#editorial). Chinese authorities also staged pyrotechnic spectacles, exploding and burning bales of confiscated drugs before stadiums full of onlookers and broadcasting the events on the state-owned television networks.
The anti-drug day, observed June 26 each year by the UN's Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNDCP), marks the anniversary of the signing of a declaration at the end of the 1987 International Conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. That declaration laid the groundwork for the UN to adopt the 1988 Convention Against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychoactive Substances, the last of three treaties that form the legal backbone of the international drug prohibition regime.
In most locations where the UNDCP organized commemorative events, they were less bloodthirsty, smelling more of magical surrealism. In Colombia, the UN group's web site announced, anti-drug day would be marked by a cheerleading festival and aerobics marathon, while in Medellin, the UNDCP would host a conference on amphetamines. Laos would stage a ceremonial dope burning in That Loung square, near the country's most important shrine, the Great Sacred Stupa, UNDCP reported, adding that it was cosponsoring a "music and theater festival with an anti-drug theme" that was also on the bill. In Afghanistan, thanks to the UNDCP, "[T]here will be an embroidery competition for women, where participants will be given cloth, thread and other resources to develop embroidered anti-drug messages."
But China's anti-drug day festivities, undertaken independently of the UNDCP, were a rude reminder of the lengths state authorities go in their efforts to suppress drug use and the drug traffic. In Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan province, thousands attended a stadium rally where 20 drug traffickers were condemned to death, according to the Associated Press. Then, officials using remote-control detonators ignited two tons of heroin placed in metal pans and soaked in gasoline. That display was broadcast live for the noon national news, while the condemned were taken to another location and shot in the head, AP reported.
Chinese executioners were busy across the land, according to the AP. They executed eight people in the central city of Wuhan and eight more on Hainan Island, where the downed US spy plane still lingers. In Fujian province, authorities executed five Taiwanese citizens for trying to smuggle crystal meth to Taiwan. But the single largest toll came a day earlier, when 18 heroin traffickers were executed in southwestern Chonquing, according to a report from Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. Scattered executions in various cities brought the toll to at least 59, AP reported.
UN officials declined to endorse China's actions. "Drug abuse, drug trafficking are indeed very terrible problems of our day," UN deputy spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told a New York press conference. The 1988 convention does provide a legal framework for waging war against drug trafficking, said the UN spokesman, but "as far as I am aware the convention does not provide for the application of the death penalty."
The wave of executions come amidst a months-long crackdown on violent crime and drug trafficking known as operation "Strike Hard," which has resulted in more than a thousand executions so far this year, European Union diplomats in Beijing who monitor the state-run media told AP. Many more have received death sentences and are awaiting execution, they said.
Chinese Minister of Public Security Jia Chunwang told the China Daily the "drug scourge" has brought "social disorder" to China and that Chinese drug fighters "had spared no effort" in the drug battle leading up to the UN's anti-drug day.
He said that in the last five months Chinese anti-drug agencies had arrested 15,000 people on drug charges and had seized 2.2 tons of heroin, 1.2 tons of opium, and 2 tons of methamphetamine. According to statistics from the Ministry of Public Security, the number of registered addicts had risen from 148,000 in 1991 to 860,000 last year, but those figures may seriously underestimate the extent of drug use in China. The same China Daily news account that reported the figure for addicts also reported the official Chinese government line that there were only 23,000 HIV-positive persons in China, most of them infected through intravenous drug use. But an ABC World News Tonight report on June 27 said China was in denial about the extent of AIDS, quoting sources within the Chinese Health Ministry as putting the number of HIV-infected people at at least 600,000, with much of the spread due to infected needles used in commercial blood-buying centers in the 1980s.
Also on July 27, in a story that drew no connections, the Washington Post reported that a Chinese physician seeking political asylum in the US has said in written statements that he participating in the harvesting of organs from freshly executed prisoners. In documents given to the post by the Laogai Foundation, funded by expatriate Chinese human rights activist Harry Wu, Wang Guoqi said he helped remove corneas and harvest skin from more than 100 executed prisoners. Other doctors participated as well, he said. Wang was employed by the Tianjin Paramilitary Police General Brigade Hospital, which sold those organs for enormous profits.
According to Wang, the police hospital paid off security officials to notify it in advance of multiple executions, especially during the periodic "Strike Hard" campaigns, then sold organs such as kidneys to wealthy or well-connected people for up to $15,000 each. Wang said many prisoners were shot, then immediately placed in ambulances where their kidneys were removed within two minutes. Wang, a burn specialist, said he often carved skin from the arms, legs, chest and back of each corpse. The skin would be used later for burn victims.
"After all extractable tissues and organs were taken, what remained was an ugly heap of muscles, the blood vessels still bleeding, or all viscera exposed," he said. "Then the corpse was handed to the workers at the crematorium."
According to Harry Wu, Chinese law bans organ removal from condemned criminals unless they, or their families, volunteer their bodies for medical use. But he told the Post that, in reality, prisoners or their families are not asked and the process is highly corrupt.
The US State Department has raised the subject in its annual human rights report, saying this year that "credible reports have alleged that organs from some executed prisoners were removed, sold, and transplanted." Chinese authorities "have confirmed that executed prisoners are among the sources of organs for transplants but maintain that consent is required from prisoners or their relatives before organs are removed," the report added.