NEW YORK—In a bittersweet moment for Crystal Chen, the man who signed away five years of her life to a forced labor camp was served with a lawsuit in Manhattan on Oct. 22.
Shi Honghui, director of forced labor camps in China’s Guangdong province, is responsible for torture, genocide, and other gross human rights violations, according to the complaint. He was approached by a professional process server while visiting Pier 16 in lower Manhattan.
Upon being served, Shi threw the documents to the ground. He later fled the scene in a chartered bus, leaving other members of his party stranded at the pier, according to Wang Zhiyuan, spokesperson for the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong and witness to the scene.
Wang was part of the team that tracked Shi to New York and ensured the papers were served.
"All those criminals who actively participate in the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners have been documented, and in the end they will find it hard to escape the dragnet of the law," Wang said.
Beginning in August 2000, Chen was sent without trial twice to Chatou Women’s “Re-education Through Labor” Camp in Guangdong’s capital city of Guangzhou for her belief in Falun Gong, where she spent a total of over five years. Among the documents committing her to the camp were ones signed personally by Shi, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
For 36-year-old Chen, a Queens resident since May and United Nations refugee, the lawsuit is significant, but cold comfort when she knows countless other Falun Gong practitioners are still being detained and tortured in Guangdong.
“It was an opportunistic moment,” she said of Shi being served. “It’s a good chance for him to know that the international community will hold him responsible for all the bad things he has done.”
Her own experience of severe beatings, forced-feeding, and prolonged sleep deprivation included one incident that remains stark in her memory.
Room 212 in the Tianhe District Detention Center, Guangzhou City, China, was the scene of Chen’s first experience of torture. She was thrown on the floor of her cell and four large males from China’s notorious 610 Office held her limbs down.
A water bottle was cut in half to be used as a funnel. A one-pound bag of salt was poured inside the bottle, a small amount of water added. Chen’s eyes were covered with a dirty towel. Guards shoved the opening of the bottle against Chen’s teeth and tried to pry her mouth open with a used toothbrush. She was obstinate—she knew the salt could kill her.
“The salt went everywhere into my mouth and up my nose,” Chen said in a previous interview. “I vomited salt and blood for the following days and could not eat. My gums were full of blood, I could hardly talk. They still handcuffed me.”
Six days after her release from this detention center, a male practitioner, Gao Xianmin, died after being subjected to the same high-density salt torture.
“Even though I suffered a lot in labor camp I never felt angry about them [officials],” Chen said. “I just feel they are so poor to be part of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP]. One day they will be brought to justice.”
Falun Dafa Information Center spokesperson Erping Zhang agreed.
“As we speak, Falun Gong practitioners like Ms. Chen are still being detained and tortured in Guangdong labor camps under Mr. Shi’s authority, in violation of China’s own laws,” he said.
Since the persecution began, 71 Falun Gong practitioners have been tortured to death in Guangdong province, according to statistics recorded on Minghui.net, a Web site that carries first-hand information about the persecution.
“We hope that lawsuits such as this will encourage Mr. Shi and his colleagues to stop persecuting Falun Gong and send a clear message that although there is impunity for such crimes under the current Communist Party regime, perpetrators will eventually be held to account,” Zhang said.
According to the complaint, Shi’s job is to set policy guidelines, and design and implement programs for the entire forced labor camp system in Guangdong Province to monitor, suppress, and eradicate the Falun Gong spiritual practice.
“In the labor camps of Guangdong Province, violence and torture have become a daily tool utilized to silence and suppress practitioners of Falun Gong,” the statement of complaint reads. “These violations include physical assault, force feeding with hot pepper or high-density salt water, denial of food, sleep and bathroom facilities, exposure to extreme hot and cold weather, burning with cigarettes and heated metal, and the administration of shocks with electric batons. Women practitioners have especially suffered an array of sexual assaults, which include rape, forced abortions, and placement of electrical discharge devices in genital areas.”
Chen said when she was in the labor camp, she found out about other Chinese officials being served lawsuits while traveling outside the mainland. “We were greatly encouraged,” she said. “The officials get shocked by these lawsuits.”
China’s former Commerce Minister Bo Xilai was sued in more than 10 countries including, Canada, Australia, U.S., England, Ireland, and Spain, to answer allegations of crimes of systematic torture and genocide. He was served papers in Australia during the 2007 APEC conference. Shortly after his trip to Australia, Bo became the Party Secretary of Chongqing City.
The class action lawsuit against Shi was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victims Protection Act, which enable victims of torture from abroad to sue for redress in U.S. courts.
The remaining plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the class of Falun Gong practitioners unlawfully sent to an estimated 20 labor camps overseen by Shi in Guangdong province.
Spokesperson Wang said "The World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong will, as it has always done, continue to pursue CCP officials who have persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, collect evidence, and be a champion of justice for the victims."