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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Canadians probe Chinese organ harvesting claims

Former MP David Kilgour speaks at a press conference concerning allegations of atrocities perpetrated against members of Falun Gong by China's communist government. Photo: Lucy Zhou

By Frank Stirk

CANADA'S Falun Gong community has enlisted two well-known human rights activists to try to get to the bottom of new allegations that authorities in China are murdering Falun Gong members in order to extract their organs for transplants.

Former Edmonton MP David Kilgour and Winnipeg lawyer David Matas hope to be able to report their findings before the end of June.

Last year, China finally admitted that it routinely harvests the organs of executed prisoners for transplant purposes both at home and for sale abroad without prior consent. But Matas says what the Falun Gong are claiming is far worse.

"They're not executed and then their organs harvested," he says. "The nature of the allegations is they're actually killed in the process of the operation of organ removal."

Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) is a movement based on principles of meditation and exercise. In 1999, when China banned it as an "evil cult," it claimed about 100 million practitioners.

Since then, followers who refuse to renounce their beliefs have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and re-education, prompting widespread claims of brainwashing, torture and other abuses. About two million are said to be currently in detention.

"The Chinese government," says Lucy Zhou of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, "has run demonization campaigns to justify their persecution. 'To protect the human rights of the Chinese people' is what they say."

According to the Chinese reporter for Japanese television who broke the story in March, Falun Gong followers were being murdered for their organs at a hospital in Sujiatun in northeast China where they had been sent by freight train. That reporter, who is now in hiding in the United States, called the facility a "concentration camp."

A woman called 'Annie' who worked as an accountant at that hospital also claimed that about 4,500 of the 6,000 Falun Gong prisoners being held in the basement had had their hearts, kidneys, corneas and skin harvested and their bodies cremated.

Zhou says Falun Gong believes this is no isolated occurrence, based on calls placed to hospitals from people pretending to want an organ transplant. "[The hospitals] say, 'We have very good quality - fresh organs, not from brain-dead people.' [The callers] say, 'We really want something from a healthy body, maybe from somebody who practices Falun Gong.' And they say, 'Yes, many of the organs are from Falun Gong practitioners.'

"Many hospitals acknowledge that. Basically it's an open secret within certain circles."

"Given the nature of some of the allegations made to date," says Kilgour, "we think it is in the public interest to weigh the probative value of what some of the individuals have said, seen and heard within China on these issues."

Not surprisingly, the Chinese government strenuously denies any wrongdoing.

At a Beijing news conference, Zhang Yuqin, the hospital's deputy director, called the "lies about a concentration camp . . . sheer fabrication" and the charges of organ harvesting "utter nonsense," the China Daily reported.

Zhang said with only 300 beds, the hospital could not handle 6,000 people. Nor does it have a basement or an incinerator.

Some China-watchers are also skeptical. Harry Wu, executive director of the Washington-based Laogai Research Foundation, which investigates abuses in the Chinese gulag, points out their 'evidence' is just hearsay. "No pictures, no witnesses, no paperwork, no detailed information at all," he says. "Nothing."

Also, given the sheer volumes alleged - the thousands of people transported and murdered, organs harvested and exported, and transplants performed - Wu wonders how all this could occur without one actual eyewitness coming forward.

Wu adds: "The Falun Gong practitioners say, 'We believe this is true because Chinese communism is a barbaric, evil system. They will do anything.' So the conclusion is: they did it. The evidence? Today, not enough."

But as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California stated in a letter to President George W. Bush in April calling for an investigation, the murders of Falun Gong followers "may be the grisly reason why there is no waiting list for human organs" in China.

Rohrabacher noted that the Oriental Organ Transplantation Centre in Tianjin claims on its web site to have performed 2,248 liver transplants in 2005 alone. "A graph of their 'achievements' shows the number of procedures growing by leaps and bounds after 1999, the year the persecution of Falun Gong officially began," he wrote.

China International Organ Transplant also asserts that "it may take only one week" to find a suitable kidney transplant, which to Rohrabacher suggested "some sort of readily accessible source of fresh bodies, either newly killed or perhaps still alive at time of harvest."

"I have no particular interest in finding these allegations to be true," says Matas. But if they are, he has no doubt Canada will respond appropriately. "I don't think any person can be indifferent to them."



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