Responding to a BBC report that alleged that the sales of organs from executed prisoners are widespread in China, Qin Gang, a spokesman for the foreign ministry told journalists on Thursday that "the use of the organs of executed prisoners is very cautious".

"The sales of organs are prohibited, [donating organs] must have the consent of the donor himself in a written report," he said.

As well as written consent, the organ donation must be approved by the provincial health department and the local provincial high court, Qin said.

"Concerned health administrative departments deal with those operations in strict accordance with law."

Widespread executions

The BBC report said one hospital claimed to be able to provide a liver for $94,500 with the chief surgeon at the hospital confirming that the donor could be an executed prisoner.

China executes more prisoners than any other country, according to London-based Amnesty International.

Such practices ensure a ready supply of organs that can be typed for organ transplant compatibility even before the prisoner is executed, rights groups have said.

Amnesty said that in 2005, it recorded at least 1,770 executions in China, while Chinese academics have said that the number could be up to 10,000 a year.

The Chinese government refuses to publicise the number of people put to death and considers the issue a state secret.