Thursday, May 21, 2009
Body Words impresario "" used corpses of executed prisoners "
Website of the Telegraph Media Group with breaking news, sport, business, latest UK and world news. Content from the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph newspapers and video from Telegraph TV. Enhanced by Google
Body Worlds impresario 'used corpses of executed prisoners for exhibition'
By Tony Paterson in Berlin
Last Updated: 1:53AM GMT 25 Jan 2004
German state prosecutors are investigating the anatomist Gunther von Hagens amid revelations that corpses procured for his controversial Body Worlds exhibitions include prisoners executed and mutilated by China's communist authorities.
Prosecutors in Heidelberg revealed last night that they would ask Chinese legal experts to help them bring evidence against the professor, who conceded last week that his exhibits could have included the bodies of condemned prisoners.
Public autopsy banned
Gunther von Hagens exhibition criticised over corpse sex display
French judge shuts down exhibition of human bodies
Chinese leader condemns Tiananmen massacre from beyond the grave
G20 summit: blow for Gordon Brown as £1.4 trillion spending blueprint is leaked
The decision to launch a legal investigation comes in the wake of a series of shocking disclosures about Prof von Hagens, 59, whose Body Worlds exhibition of dissected corpses attracted 840,000 visitors in London two years ago despite widespread criticism and attempts to ban it.
Evidence published in the magazine Der Spiegel revealed that at least seven of the 647 corpses stored in an underground bunker at the professor's vast "body processing centre" in the city of Dalian, in northern China, had head injuries. Two had bullet holes in their skulls.
Other evidence suggested that many of the corpses and foetuses held at Dalian were supplied by the Chinese police and may have been victims of China's one-child-per-family policy. Records of one corpse, that of a nine-month-old foetus, said that it had been provided by "the police".
The disclosures contradict repeated claims by Prof von Hagens, who spends most of his time in China, that all bodies displayed in his exhibitions have been voluntarily supplied by donors who had signed written declarations to that effect before their deaths. Instead, Der Spiegel accused him of "exploiting corpses on an industrial scale".
The professor, who was nicknamed Dr Frankenstein after conducting an autopsy in London that was broadcast live on television last year, has previously denied accusations that he had bought the corpses of prisoners, homeless people and the mentally ill in Russia.
Siberian authorities said last week that they were reopening legal proceedings against him after new evidence had emerged about the delivery of 56 corpses to Professor von Hagens' body processing centre in Heidelberg. It was said to have happened without the prior permission of the deceased or their relatives.
On Friday, German state authorities said they were refusing to recognise the anatomist's title of professor because he had gained it in China, not Germany. However, he admitted last week that some bodies might have come from executed Chinese prisoners."I have told my Chinese employees they cannot accept bodies that have been executed," he said.
Der Spiegel printed what appeared to be damning e-mail correspondence with his manager in Dalian, Dr Sui Hongjin, dating from December 2001. At the time, the communist authorities had ordered the police to clamp down on criminals. Dr Sui is quoted as boasting that he had obtained "fresh specimens" - the bodies of a young man and young woman who had died that morning. He added that both corpses had had their stomachs slit open and their intestines removed, and they had bullet holes in their heads.
The centre in Dalian is close to three prison camps in which political prisoners and members of the banned Falun Gong protest movement are detained. Last week, Prof von Hagens insisted that he was not aware of the existence of the camps.
Der Speigel said that there was "masses of evidence" that Von Hagens had paid the Chinese state for corpses delivered to his Dalian factory.
Der Spiegel also revealed that "waste" body parts that were deemed unsuitable for exhibition or further use were removed from the Dalian centre and either mixed with chemicals and destroyed or unceremoniously cremated. All members of staff at the centre were obliged to sign a statement pledging them to secrecy about the company's business.
According to Amnesty International, China carried out 2,468 executions in 2001 alone. Most victims were shot in the head or neck at point-blank range. Amnesty has also complained that the Chinese authorities regularly remove the internal organs of executed people for use in transplant operations.
The evidence printed in Der Spiegel is the most serious setback Prof von Hagens has yet experienced. His Body Worlds exhibitions have attracted nearly 14 million visitors in Britain, Germany, Japan and Korea since they opened in 1997.
Last night, he was coming under mounting pressure to close the exhibition that has just opened in Frankfurt until the origin of the corpses on display has been explained.