Activist Harry Wu challenges organ harvesting claims

Scale of conspiracy alleged by Falun Gong 'impossible'

A prominent Chinese human rights activist in the US has challenged Falun Gong claims that mainland hospitals have harvested organs from thousands of its members.

Harry Wu challenged a report in the Falun Gong newspaper Epoch Times in March that claimed that 6,000 Falun Gong practitioners had been sent to a secret concentration camp in the Sujiatun district of Shenyang, Liaoning, and that 'three-fourths had their hearts, kidneys, corneas and skin extracted before they died'. Mr Wu is head of the China Information Centre in the US and a veteran of 19 years in the Chinese gulag.

Falun Gong - banned in 1999 as an 'evil cult' - claimed the organs were sold for large sums of money to Chinese and foreigners in need of transplants.

Mr Wu, who has spent 15 years gathering evidence on the harvesting of organs from executed Chinese prisoners, said the information was based on the testimony of two witnesses, neither of whom had first-hand information. He believed the reports were fabricated.

Mr Wu, who was on friendly terms with the Falun Gong until he challenged its claims, said he asked to interview the witnesses, but was refused permission by Falun Gong officials. 'I tried several times to see the witnesses, but they said no,' he said. 'Even today, I don't know their names.'

Mr Wu said he sent his own investigators to two prisons in the area mentioned by the Falun Gong, observing the institutions from the outside and interviewing people coming out of the prison and local residents.

He said he discovered there were Falun Gong practitioners being held in the prisons. But his team could not locate any trace of the concentration camp or corroborate the claims of forced organ removals.

Investigators also visited two hospitals in the area, but again found no evidence.

US officials from the embassy in Beijing and the consulate in Shenyang also visited the area twice in April, but came up empty handed.

'US representatives have found no evidence to support allegations that a site in northeast China has been used as a concentration camp to jail Falun Gong practitioners and harvest their organs,' the US State Department said in April.

Mr Wu questioned the feasibility of the claims. He said a total of 4,500 victims 'would mean 1,500 persons per year, or at least 120 persons per month whose organs were removed'.

'This would be impossible to accomplish in an environment such as Sujiatun,' he said. 'China takes organs from many executed prisoners every year, but to kill 4,000 or 5,000 people, I don't think so. Professional doctors would not do this.' He also cast doubt on claims that a doctor removed corneas from 2,000 followers in less than two years.

David Matas, an international human rights lawyer who co-authored an independent report which supports the Falun Gong claims, countered Mr Wu's argument that it would be impossible to remove the corneas from 2,000 people in such a short time span.

'The process of removing the eyes takes only 20 minutes,' he said, adding that one surgeon could remove the corneas from 2,000 bodies in just 83 days.

He said further that he and co-author David Kilgour had obtained more information since their first report came out last month that would be incorporated into a new report next month.