One would imagine that Ma Chunmei, whose sister was released Aug. 30 from one of the most brutal labor camps in China, should be pretty happy. But her feelings are mixed.
“My other sister and my mother brought Ma Chunling home, and I am relieved,” she said in a telephone interview from the Washington area, where she now lives. “But the Chinese Communist Party is still using torture against Falun Gong practitioners all over China.” Falun Gong is a spiritual discipline, persecuted in China, that Ma and her sister practice.
“I was persecuted in the Heizhuizi Forced Labor Camp for four years, almost beaten to death. I’m very lucky to be out of there,” Ma said. “But recently I read about the torture happening at Heizhuizi. My heart was pained.”
In recent months there have been several reports of re-education-through-labor camps in China closing. In some cases, practitioners of Falun Gong, a heavily persecuted spiritual group, are being released.
In other cases, the practitioners are being sent to brainwashing centers or prisons where they receive the same abuse as they had in the labor camps—abuse meant to force them to give up their most deeply held beliefs.
Minghui.org is a Falun Gong website that documents the persecution in China with daily updates. A glance at its Sept. 10 edition provides a feel for the abuse suffered by Falun Gong practitioners every day in China.
The lead story concerns Mr. Hua Lianyou, who has been on a hunger strike since May 30, 2012, to protest the seven-year prison sentence he was given. Prison inmates have sharpened the end of the tube used to force feed him in order to cut the lining of his stomach. At the instigation of prison authorities, criminals regularly beat the weakened Hua.
In December 2012 his family got the chance to visit him. Upon seeing how weak he had become, they requested Hua be given medical parole, but authorities refused.
Another article reports how, when Panjin Prison was closed in May 2012, practitioners were transferred to Shenyang Prison, where they are tortured.
Among them is Mr. Gao, who was sentenced in 2007 to 12 years in prison. As a result of years of torture, the lungs of the formerly healthy Gao are reported to be full of fluid. Almost all of his teeth are now gone and he can’t eat solid food. He uses a wheelchair and is so weak his voice can barely be heard. The prison keeps him in solitary confinement.
Other practitioners transferred from Panjin to Shenyang Prison are subjected to sleep deprivation—a standard brainwashing tactic. They are forced to sit motionless from 5:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. at night on low stools—a form of torture—while made to watch videos that attack their belief in Falun Gong. Criminals monitor them, beat them, shout at, and curse them.
Other articles from Minghui on Sept. 10 report other examples of abuse and torture.
Due to the difficulty in getting information out of China, the reports on Minghui only capture a fraction of the instances of persecution. It is difficult in any case to portray the scope of the campaign against Falun Gong, because it so huge.
Ethan Gutmann has researched the persecution of Falun Gong for nearly a decade and is currently writing a book about it. Based on interviews he has done with practitioners who served time in labor camps and other data, he estimates that between 2000 and 2009, the average number of practitioners held in all forms of detention in China was between 450,000 and 1,000,000 at any given time.
Only a handful of labor camps have been reported to have closed—which means most of these estimated hundreds of thousands are still locked up in labor camps, prisons, brainwashing centers, psychiatric hospitals, and jails.
According to Levi Browde, the executive director of the Falun Dafa Information Center, there is no estimate for how many practitioners have “disappeared.”
“We don’t know how to begin to put a number on that,” Browde said. “Here’s what we do know: there are tens of millions of people practicing Falun Gong throughout China. In my experience, almost everyone I’ve talked to from China seems to know someone that’s gone missing.”
April 19, 2003, was the last day that Wanqing Huang, now of New York City, was in touch with his brother younger brother Xiong, who had been constantly on the move trying to escape the police.
Wanqing misses Xiong and still searches for him, but admits the trail is cold. “He disappeared over 10 years ago, and there are fewer and fewer clues.” His family members feel helpless.
Wanqing believes Xiong was captured by the Chinese regime and “persecuted so severely that the Chinese Communist Party does not dare admit the truth of what they did.”
Organ Harvesting and Transformation
The fear Wanqing and all practitioners who are missing a family member or friend have to face is that their loved ones have been taken for organ harvesting. The victim has all of the marketable organs removed while still alive, killing him or her.
Although the Chinese regime has recently said that it would put in place an organ donation system that would replace its current reliance on prisoners for transplantation, a trial of that new system between March 2010 and September 2012 only produced, according to official reports, 1,279 organs, or about 511 organs from 186 donors per year.
Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas, the co-author (with David Kilgour) of “Bloody Harvest,” the pioneering study of organ harvesting in China, believes China is still doing approximately 10,000 transplantations a year. He estimates the organs for 8,000 of those operations come from Falun Gong practitioners.
Some who survive the labor camps and make it out of China aren’t able to leave the persecution behind.
In his psychiatric practice Dr. Jingduan Yang of Philadelphia treats Falun Gong practitioners who have suffered severe sexual abuse and torture.
“Sexual abuse generates not only physical pain, but also shame and fear that can last forever,” said Yang, in an earlier interview with Epoch Times. “It is the most damaging trauma to people’s mental health and self esteem.”
In a letter Chinese human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng wrote to Communist Party leaders in 2005, he described sexual abuse of Falun Gong practitioners as routine. “Almost every woman’s genitals and breasts or every man’s genitals have been sexually assaulted during the persecution in a most vulgar fashion,” Gao wrote.
In his patients, Yang sees “severe neurological and muscular skeletal pain and cramps, severe anxiety, depression, insomnia, avoidance, nightmares, panic attacks, and flashbacks.”
Yang said the goal of the sexual abuse in the labor camps, which includes rape and gang rape, is to break down the individual’s belief system.
In fact, the goal of all of mass detentions, brainwashing, sexual abuse, and torture is to achieve what is called “transformation”: forcing Falun Gong practitioners to give up their beliefs.
“Transformation involves forcing individuals to discard what they hold most dear to their hearts,” said Browde. “Practitioners who have gone through this describe themselves as feeling completely dead inside. It is heart wrenching to see.”
“Even though some camps have closed, the efforts to transform practitioners are continuing all over China,” Browde said.
Wanqing Huang, whose brother disappeared over 10 years ago, said, “The closing of some of the camps is of course a good thing, but it is not the end of the persecution.”
“The persecution will not finally end until the Chinese Communist Party is dissolved,” Huang said. “Otherwise, the Party will just hide the truth of what it did.”
With reporting by Matthew Robertson.