Netflix’s hit dystopian drama – with deadly playground games, anonymous masked henchmen and a giant murderous doll – is far-fetched to say the least. And yet, arguably, one storyline underplays the grim reality.
In just four weeks, Squid Game, the Korean production where contestants play children’s games and the losing players are killed, became Netflix’s most popular series ever and number one in 90 countries.
In one storyline, guards take the bodies of losing contestants and operate on them, removing vital organs while the subjects are still alive. These organs are then rushed to be sold to Chinese traders.
A grim reality
Astonishingly, this black market story has some basis in reality. Illegal organ trading has become a widespread and lucrative business for illegal groups around the world, with one estimate suggesting that 10,000 kidneys alone are traded on the black market worldwide annually – more than one every hour.
In most countries, including the UK, criminal gangs bear primary responsibility for this sinister and sadistic trade. In 2018, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that they had collected information on approximately 700 victims of trafficking in persons for removal of organs detected in 25 countries over 13 years. This is likely a conservative estimate.
For example, a few years ago people smugglers in Egypt would often target refugees and asylum seekers from countries like Eritrea and Sudan, telling them that they could raise money to pay for sea crossings into Europe by selling their organs. In other cases groups even abducted refugees to extort exorbitant ransom payments from their families and friends. When payments were not forthcoming, vital organs were forcefully harvested in unhygienic conditions, generally resulting in the death of the person concerned.
China is also home to this sinister trade, but recent years have also seen allegations emerge which suggest it is home to another form of illegal organ harvesting – one sanctioned and organised by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself.
Organ harvesting on an industrial scale?
In particular, activists allege that the CCP is responsible for industrial level organ harvesting sometimes specifically targeted at members of ethnic and religious minorities and prisoners of conscience. CSW has not been able to independently verify these allegations, but the accusations certainly offer cause for concern in light of the CCP’s well-documented and egregious human rights violations.
For example, a series of reports by human rights lawyer David Matas, former Canadian cabinet minister David Kilgour and China analyst Ethan Gutmann, found evidence to suggest that Falun Gong practitioners – a spiritual movement which has been banned in China since 1999 – had been particularly and unwillingly targeted, finding that “the source of 41,500 [organ] transplants for the six-year period 2000 to 2005 is unexplained.”
In 2019 an independent people’s tribunal into forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China chaired by barrister and former judge Sir Geoffrey Nice QC also raised concern that forced organ harvesting may now be taking place amid the ongoing human rights crisis in the Uyghur region.
“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one – and probably the main – source of organ supply. The concerted persecution and medical testing of the Uyghurs is more recent and it may be that evidence of forced organ harvesting of this group may emerge in due course. The Tribunal has had no evidence that the significant infrastructure associated with China’s transplantation industry has been dismantled and absent a satisfactory explanation as to the source of readily available organs concludes that forced organ harvesting continues till today. The Tribunal further concluded that crimes against humanity against the Falun Gong and Uyghurs have been proved beyond reasonable doubt.”Short form conclusion of the China Tribunal’s judgement
A call to action
The organ harvesting storyline is not one of the most dominant features of Squid Game, but it does illustrate that even the most far-fetched and horrifying stories can often have some basis in reality.
The programme’s themes of social injustice and discrimination have clearly struck a chord with audiences around the world, and our hope and prayer at CSW is that anyone stirred by the unspeakable horrors depicted in the show would be moved to stand up, speak out and challenge the equally grave atrocities taking place in our world today.
By CSW’s Head of Campaigns Dave Mance
Featured Image: Screenshot from Squid Game/Netflix