Von Hagens’s factory had easy access to Chinese bodies, according to the New York Times, because it was using what are designated under Chinese law as unclaimed bodies. Von Hagens told the New York Times that after new Chinese regulations issued in July 2006, “Now it’s difficult [to use unclaimed bodies].”
According to article 348 of the Chinese Supreme People’s Court’s judicial interpretation of China’s Criminal Procedure Law, the family of an executed criminal is supposed to be notified that the body is available to be picked up within a specified time frame.
“If the criminal’s family fails to claim the body after the specified date,” the interpretation says, “the people’s court may notify related organizations to handle the corpse or the remains.”
The murder had nothing to do with protecting Gu’s son.
Article 348 in effect leaves a loophole wide open for courts and public security officials to handle as they wish any body designated unclaimed.
Peng Yongfeng used to practice law in China. He told the Sound of Hope Radio Network that article 348 has in fact given the court the right to cremate an inmate’s body, and therefore have the inmate’s organs removed before the body was cremated, without notifying the family members.
In fact, when the family members of Falun Gong practitioners have been summoned to claim the bodies of their loved ones, they have often been handed a box of ashes, according to accounts on the Falun Gong website Minghui. The families have no way of verifying whose ashes they have been given.
The circumstances of the persecution of Falun Gong make practitioners particularly vulnerable to being treated as unclaimed.
In his chapter in the book State Organs, spokesperson for the Falun Dafa Information Center Erping Zhang explained why practitioners often withhold their identities when arrested. If the identity is revealed, then the practitioner’s entire family and colleagues may be made to suffer. By withholding their identities, practitioners protect those close to them.
Unidentified practitioners are by definition “unclaimed” should they be executed, as the police have no way of contacting their family members. In addition, the family members of those who never identified themselves have no way of learning their fate, freeing authorities from the possibility of being called to account.
The police and the courts then have full latitude in how to dispose of the unclaimed body—by, for instance, selling it to the highest bidder.
Gu discovered there were two ways to turn detained practitioners into cash. The organs could be removed and used by hospitals in Liaoning for transplantation, and the bodies could be sold to plastination factories.
Von Hagens told the New York Times that his business partner, Dr. Sui Hongjin, had established a competing factory and was supplying his competitors with plastinated bodies.
Von Hagens and Sui parted ways in 2000. Since then, several more body plastination factories have opened in Dalian, and China has acquired the notoriety of being the world’s No. 1 exporter of corpses. According to Radio Free Asia, a single plastinated body can be sold for US$1 million.
According to the Epoch Times source, Gu and Heywood were in the thick of developing this new industry. The source said they supplied the factories with the bodies of Falun Gong practitioners, which make up the bulk of the corpses supplied from Chinese sources to Dalian’s plastination factories.
Gu was the mastermind in financial management, international and domestic online advertisement, and the opening up of export channels for organ and human body trafficking, according to the source.
The Epoch Times has no information that von Hagens or other proprietors of the body plastination factories knew that the bodies supplied them, supposedly from Dalian’s medical schools, were murdered Falun Gong practitioners.
According to the Epoch Times source, Gu murdered Heywood because he had begun to talk about their dealings involving Falun Gong bodies in Dalian. The murder had nothing to do with protecting Gu’s son.
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