May 2006

Kevin Steel
Western Standard

Zhang Tianxiao fears the worst. The 34-year-old Chinese native has been trying to find her younger sister, Yunhe, for the last three years. The sisters are both practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement outlawed in Communist China. In February 2002, Yunhe was arrested in Qingdao City in China's northeastern Shandong Province. When Zhang phoned the detention centre where Yunhe was being held, the authorities told her that her sister was arrested for handing out pamphlets. "They said she was [an] enemy of the Chinese state," Zhang says from her home in Chicago. Six months later, authorities denied they were even holding Yinhe. Her family has heard nothing of her since. "I do not like to think about it, but, yes, I fear the worst," Zhang says, her voice trailing off into hushed grief.

Yunhe would be 32 years old today, but Zhang fears she may have fallen victim to the horrific practice of live organ transplantation. In March, the Chinese dissident newspaper The Epoch Times printed a report based on eyewitness accounts from the Sujiatun labour camp in Shenyang City that kidneys, livers, hearts and corneas were being removed from Falun Gong prisoners and transplanted into foreigners who had paid enormous sums to hospitals in China for the body parts. The unwilling donors were left to die, their bodies eventually cremated to cover up the evidence.

In 1999, Beijing outlawed Falun Gong [...], with then president Jiang Zemin vowing to eradicate the group within three months. Wholesale arrests began. The World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong estimates there are several hundred thousand practitioners today in labour camps throughout the country.

Since 2000, organ transplants in China have risen dramatically, a fact that hospitals there were boasting of until only recently. After The Epoch Times reports, transplant statistics began disappearing from Chinese government websites. A chart titles -Our Achievements on the site of the Oriental Organ Transplantation Center in Tianjin City until recently showed the number of transplants rising from nine in 1999 to 1,501 in 2004. It has been removed. So has a statement boasting: "Currently, we have completed 2,248 cased of liver transplantation [in 2005]." The sate-run clinics would certainly believe they had reason to brag: not only were they conducting impressive numbers of transplants, they were able to locate donors with unbelievable speed. It often takes years in western countries to find organ donors. The website of the China International Network Assistance Center in Shenyang recently claimed: "It may take only one week to fi nd out the suitable donor, the maximum time being one month" "Our organs do not come from brain death victims because the state of the organ may not be good." That bit of promotion has also been stripped from the site.

Chinese officials have repudiated the reports of live organ transplants. But in December, the Communist government admitted it had been selling organs harvested from executed prisoners to foreigners seeking transplants, a practice they had also denied for years. China promised to end the practice by July of this year. Three weeks after reports began emerging about the live transplants at Sujiatun, China's government invited foreign journalists and human rights groups to tour the camp. No evidence was found. But Lucy Zhou, a Falun Gong practitioner in Ottawa, says it was nothing more than a publicity stunt, with visitors shown only what the state wanted them to see. "It was an organized tour, not an inspection," she says, noting that it would probably have taken only a few days to cover up all the evidence anyway.

Beijing's July deadline for ending transplants from executed convicts has Falun Gong supporters urgently trying to raise awareness of China's organ harvesting, believing authorities will rush to squeeze in as many operations as possible, and kill prisoners to do it. On April 20, Dr. Wang Wenyi, a New York physician, journalist and Falun Gong practitioner, succeeded in capturing headlines worldwide when she stood up at the White House's arrival ceremony for visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao and shouted at the politician about human rights abuses. [...]


Wang told the Western Standard she has personally interviewed eyewitnesses who came forward about the live organ transplants, and has no doubt the stories are true. "If the international community keeps silent, I am sure the killing will continue," she says. She explains that she yelled at Hu because she thought he might not be aware that these alleged atrocities were being committed in his prisons. So far, she says her investigations have turned u only the complicity of high officials at the provincial level. "If he did know and didn't do anything, he will be [involved in] a crime against humanity, Wang says. "If he didn't know, by this incident he should know, and if he really wants to do something, he has a chance."