(PROFILE) Fiery Wu claims China executes prisoners to sell organs

April 5, 1998
Deutsche Presse-Agentur

By Rhea Wessel

New York (dpa) – Human rights activist Harry Wu has made it his life’s work to expose the abuses he endured in China’s gulag-style prison camps and those still faced by thousands of other prisoners.

Last month, Wu went to a New York hotel, posed as a doctor and pretended to negotiate a deal to buy human organs for transplant. The organs would be harvested from executed prisoners from the gulag.

Unbeknown to the organ dealer, their two hours of haggling about the prices and conditions of kidneys (20,000 dollars), corneas (5,000 dollars a pair) and livers (40,000 dollars) was recorded.

In March, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested New York resident Wang Cheng Yong, 41, and his alleged partner, Fu Xingqi, 35, on charges of conspiracy to sell human organs.

It was Wu’s masquerading as a Chinese doctor that facilitated the arrests. Two recordings were made – one audio and one video – and these tapes, according to Wu, document his long-standing charges.

Wu and human rights activists believe China’s government condemns citizens on petty charges and executes them in order to sell their organs. Even the timing and method of execution is believed to be tailored to the demand for certain organs.

When corneas are needed, prisoners are shot in the chest. When livers are needed, they’re shot in the head, they claim.

“It could have been me,” Wu said in a recent telephone interview from his home in California. After surviving China’s gulag, Wu became an American citizen and a crusader for human rights in China.

But Wu is not sitting back enjoying the victory of his recent success. He’s back at work criticizing China, defending his claims against those who call him a hothead and exaggerator, and researching and writing books.

Wu, 61, was born to wealthy parents in Shanghai. He attended private school, took music lessons and had a childhood insulated from the political upheaval of the coming of Communism.

When he was to go off to college, Wu got labeled a public enemy because of the privileges he enjoyed as a youth. Eventually he was thrown in jail on charges of theft. He spent the next 19 years performing “reform through labor” in the Laogai, the Chinese gulag.

In his autobiography, he describes the psychological abuse he faced.

“It’s no longer the fashion to bind a woman’s feet, but they bind a person’s thoughts instead… That’s why they arrested me,” he says.

He vowed to use his life purposefully to change society. The activist has become known around the world for his blunt criticism of China.

Wu testified to the U.S. Congress in 1995 about the illegal trade in human body parts. And he has worked on high-profile documentaries with ABC television, the 60 Minutes U.S. TV show and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Each time he has the microphone, Wu takes the chance to blast China’s human rights record, particularly on prison labor.

After the New York court case is settled, Wu hopes to use the tapes of the two organ dealers in his campaign against China.

“We must tell people the truth. We have the footage that will cause people to question (the practice),” said Wu.

“They (the Chinese) are not only killing, they’re executing in public. The first step is to stop public executions. Then we stop the trade in organs,” he declared.

Beijing rejects his allegations and even some human-rights activists dislike Wu’s heated style.

A Human Rights Watch official who works closely with Wu declined comment. But Wei Jingsheng, the leading Chinese democracy advocate who was recently released from jail, was willing to discuss the controversy about Wu’s black-and-white nature.

“Not everyone likes Harry. But we must forgive him. The work he is doing is very important,” said Wei, a human rights fellow at Columbia University in New York.

Wei, who spent 17 years in a Chinese prison, said Wu seems to talk to the public in the same defensive way he must have talked to the provocative prison guards on the other side of the bars.

A colleague of Wu, Jeff Fiedler, summed up Wu’s motivation when he said, “He is a survivor. He wants the system ended and he wants the people to know about those who suffer and continue to suffer.”

Wu seconded the assessment adding, “I not only want to see freedom from the machine (the gulag), I want to destroy it.”