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China harvests organs from persecuted minorities, human rights group claims

Heinous, if proved accurate.

Members of Falun Gong religion demonstrate in Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square. They demand Canada to pressure China to stop religious persecution.

Photo credit: Roberto Machado Noa / LightRocket via Getty Images
  • The NGO China Tribunal accused China of killing persecuted minorities and harvesting thousands of organs from them.
  • They recently presented their findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
  • China has denied the large-scale harvesting of organs.

China has been accused of murdering and harvesting the organs of ethnic and other persecuted groups in the country.

Members of the NGO China Tribunal spoke before the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday, September 24, claiming that the Chinese government was responsible for purloining thousands of essential organs — hearts, kidneys, and lungs — from members of the Falun Gong religious sect and Uighur Muslims.

China Tribunal accusations to UN Human Rights Council

A senior lawyer of the group, Hamid Sabi, called on the U.N. human rights body to investigate their evidence that implicates China in the murdering of Falun Gong spiritual group members for the harvesting of their organs for transplant.

Before the council, Sabi said:

"For years throughout China on a significant scale [the harvesting of organs]. . . and it continues today. . . Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century."

Sabi also mentioned that detainees from the ethnic Uighur minority were also targeted. "Here is a duty on those who have the power to institute investigations for, and proceedings at, international courts or at the U.N. to test whether Genocide has been committed," China Tribunal's final report reads.

Beijing has denied the accusations that it is rounding up persecuted groups and forcibly taking their organs. It also stated that it stopped using organs from executed prisoners back in 2015. However, China Tribunal's higher-ups claim that there was a substantial number of prisoners killed by the Chinese government:

"The Tribunal's members are certain — unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt — that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims."

The tribunal and report was led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, a British lawyer that was the lead lead prosecutor in the trial of former Yugoslavian president, Slobodan Milosevic."

Currently, the group's members are calling for further investigations and proceedings.

Persecuted ethnic groups and minorities

The Falun Gong is a spiritual meditation group that was banned in China over 20 years ago after 10,000 of their members led a silent protest in a leadership compound in Beijing. Since then, thousands of members have been imprisoned.

Sir Geoffrey Nice, the tribunal's chairman, spoke at a separate U.N. event stating that those involved in the transplant surgery foreign market could no longer discredit this "inconvenient evidence."

Transplant recipients usually include Chinese nationals and overseas patients who come to China so that they can receive an organ with a reduced waiting time, although at a much higher cost.

The tribunal concluded their findings by saying that:

"Governments and any who interact in any substantial way with the PRC [...] should now recognize that they are, to the extent revealed above, interacting with a criminal state."

China has been successfully squashing any international investigations into their systematic surveillance and rounding up of Uighurs into re-education camps. Diplomats, and even journalists, have allegedly been reluctant to go public after witnessing the problems firsthand.

China contends that its detention camps are there to fight Islamist extremism. Beijing calls these places boarding schools and explains that all of the detainees are voluntarily there.

If what the China Tribunal has found is, indeed, true, then this is could be one of the worst atrocities imaginable being committed by a nation state in this day and age.

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What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth

Could this former river island in the Indus have inspired Tolkien to create Cair Andros, the ship-shaped island in the Anduin river?

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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

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  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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