Organ harvesting and China's openness

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China is scurrying to welcome the world when it hosts the 2008 Olympic Games. That event will bring thousands of visitors with laptops and video cameras, along with TV networks. What kind of country will these foreigners find? Will it be one whose government respects its own citizens' rights?

Two paths lie ahead for President Hu Jintao and his unelected regime. One is to accelerate openness and reform and present an admirable track record of improved human rights to the world two years hence. The other is to try to hide huge discontent bubbling near the surface by cracking down on dissidents. The Hu government seems to be committed to the latter.

Much has been said about the government's attempts to limit what its people can learn about China and the world by blocking access to Internet sites. This year alone, China has shut down more than 700 online forums, and eight search engines have been ordered to block searches of about 1,000 banned words, including "Falun Gong" and "Tiananmen Square," according to the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

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Now allegations that China is executing prisoners from the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, and harvesting their organs for transplant, add to the possibility that unless China changes, it may find itself squirming uncomfortably when the world comes calling in 2008.

A report from two respected Canadian human rights activists, featured in today's Monitor and widely elsewhere, charges China with putting to death "a large but unknown number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience" since 1999 and selling their organs – hearts, kidneys, livers, corneas – at high prices to foreigners. China quickly dismissed the charges.

The report's evidence is circumstantial, but persuasive. It includes a sharp rise in transplants that parallels massive arrests of Falun Gong members, websites listing organs for sale, officials at Chinese hospitals and clinics admitting by phone that they have Falun Gong organs on hand, and a shocking secondhand account from the wife of a transplant surgeon.

The Canadians, David Kilgour, a former member of Parliament and cabinet minister, and David Matas, a human rights lawyer, have put their own considerable reputations on the line to stand behind their report. Neither is a member of Falun Gong.

China has tried to change the subject by painting Falun Gong as a dangerous cult whose members hold strange beliefs at odds with the Communist Party's worldview. But it ought to be more concerned about conducting an honest investigation into these possible atrocities, whether they are the result of Beijing-directed repression, local corruption, or a combination of both.

Falun Gong protests are just one visible edge of a discontented Chinese society that longs to be pluralistic, with citizens able to openly explore China's own traditional cultures and foreign influences, from Western commercialism to various forms of Christianity and other religions.

To gain the credibility it seeks for 2008, China should provide transparent evidence to prove to the world that such outrageous practices are not being conducted.

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