[Editor Notes:] On August 9, 2007, the main media of Canada “the Ottawa Citizen” published an article to question the report about “The story of Sujiatun” made by David Kilgour, a former MP. The following is the main text:
Mr. Kilgour, who once served as secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific region, has a long record as a human rights advocate. In 2005, when sitting as an independent MP, he threatened to withdraw support for then-prime minister Paul Martin’s narrow minority government if Canada did not do more to help the people of Darfur, in the Sudan.
Mr. Kilgour made international headlines last year with a report on the persecution of Falun Gong, co-written with Winnipeg lawyer David Matas.
Like no other document before it, the Matas-Kilgour report gave credence to allegations advanced by Falun Gong. Today, its conclusions are regularly cited by the movement’s devotees as evidence of abuse at the hands of the Chinese government.
And while much of their work has been embraced by international human rights experts, some have raised doubts about some aspects of the report and its methodology.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa dismissed it as “groundless” and “based on rumours and false allegations.”
But others were also dubious. Researchers working for the U.S. Congress concluded that some of the key allegations in the report “appear to be inconsistent with the findings of other investigations.”
At the centre of the report is the claim that the Chinese government harvests the organs of Falun Gong practitioners for sale to foreign tourists. Falun supporters have charged that the Chinese government operated a facility where practitioners were imprisoned, executed, their organs removed and their bodies cremated.
The stories of an alleged concentration camp in northeastern China first surfaced in March 2006 with reports in the Epoch Times, a newspaper that publishes virulently anti-Communist commentary and stories alleging persecution of the Falun Gong movement. The paper cited a secret concentration camp at Sujiatun where, it alleged, 4,500 followers had been executed and cremated.
The mainstream media soon jumped on the story. The National Review Online, a conservative website in the U.S., wrote that Chinese human-rights activists believe that this name should cause the same shudders as Treblinka and the others. The Toronto Sun made the easy comparison between the Sujiatun claims and Nazi death camps.
Mr. Kilgour and Mr. Matas were asked by a U.S.-based group called the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong in China to look into the allegations of human rights violations. They were not allowed into China, but worked from documents and interviews. In July, they issued a report that concluded China had put to death a large but unknown number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.
Although the authors stress that they did not rely on any one piece of evidence to reach their conclusion, they said they found credible the story of an unnamed woman living in the U.S. with the pseudonym Annie, who claimed to be the former wife of a surgeon in China.
Annie, previously featured in an Epoch Times story, told the Canadians that her husband had removed the corneas from approximately 2,000 Falun Gong prisoners at Sujiatun. The bodies were passed on to other doctors who removed more organs, and then cremated the remains, she claimed. Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour used her information only where it could be corroborated by other information, they wrote.
The report also relied on translated transcripts of telephone calls in which Chinese officials were said to confirm the common harvesting of organs from Falun Gong detainees.
By the time the report was released, doubts about the veracity of the Sujiatun story were growing.
The U.S. State Department said officials from its consulate in nearby Shenyang City and the embassy in Beijing had visited Sujiatun twice and found only a normal public hospital.
Reporters from a Hong Kong newspaper also found no sign of an underground death camp that Falun followers alleged. A machine that was said to be an oven for cremating bodies was, in fact, a boiler room, they concluded.
The Sujiatun story lost more air when Harry Wu, a former political prisoner of the Chinese government and outspoken voice against the Communist government, said he doubted the witness accounts upon which the Sujiatun stories relied. His organization investigated and found the witness statements unreliable. He concluded the story may be intentionally fabricated.
While Mr. Wu agreed that the Chinese government brutally persecutes the Falun Gong and others, he said there was no evidence to support the claim that 4,500 practitioners were killed at Sujiatun.
Questions about the Matas-Kilgour report went beyond the allegations about Sujiatun. A paper prepared by the U.S. Congressional Research Service concluded that the report for the most part “does not bring forth new or independently-obtained testimony and relies largely upon the making of logical inferences.” It also questioned the transcripts of telephone calls, in which Chinese officials are said to admit using Falun Gong organs.
“Some argue that such apparent candour would seem unlikely given Chinese government controls over sensitive information, which may raise questions about the credibility of the telephone recordings,” the research service paper said.
In January, Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour released an updated version of their report and repeated their belief in the story of the unnamed former wife of a surgeon. Mr. Wu had jumped to conclusions about Sujiatun before investigators from his organization completed their work, they claimed.
“What this means is that the views of Harry Wu were not based on the full reports of his investigation,” the report claimed.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Wu’s organization said this week he has not changed his position on the Sujiatun allegations.
“We haven’t found any evidence to support the location and the number and events they have described going on,” said Lisa Pertoso, of the Laogai Research Foundation.
Still, by most accounts, there had been a marked rise in the number of organs available for transplantation in China. The government has acknowledged that some organs may come from prisoners, but it claims the condemned agree to donation before their executions.
Some of the executed could be political prisoners or Falun Gong followers, of course. But China vehemently denies an orchestrated genocide or use of Nazi-style concentration camps involving Falun Gong. The government also moved last year to prohibit the sale of organs.
Mr. Matas says there may have been some confusion over Sujiatun based on what he says was a mistaken blending of information about a prison camp and a hospital in one of the Epoch Times stories. He says he continues to believe what the surgeon’s ex-wife told him.