Lizhi He was sent to jail for over three years in China for mailing letters to his friends explaining his spiritual belief, Falun Gong, which is persecuted by the regime and demonized in the state media.
While imprisoned between 2000 and 2004 he was tortured, beaten, and subjected to sleep deprivation and brainwashing sessions.
He eventually escaped to a new life in Canada, and on Sept. 22 he was in Ottawa with other Falun Gong practitioners, dressed in blue and yellow. They were holding banners at locations around Ottawa on Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s itinerary as he toured the capital. Lizhi He was with a group demontrating outside the Governor General’s house.
He wanted to send Li a message.
“It’s very important that we express that the over 17-year brutal persecution of Falun Gong must be stopped in China. The atrocities against humanity must be ended, and this is an opportunity for us to call on the Canadian government to pressure China to do what’s right,” he said.
“That is the primary message that we want to send to the Chinese premier: You must stop the persecution of Falun Gong first and bring former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, who orchestrated the persecution, to justice.”
Most Chinese understand that one must think as the Chinese Communist Party indicates through its near complete domination of all information channels in China; most see no reason to risk beatings and imprisonment for things as intangible as ideas and beliefs.
He once thought the same. Then in 1995 he started practicing Falun Gong.
“I benefitted a lot, like millions of others,” he said.
However, the launch of the campaign of persecution against adherents of the traditional spiritual practice that began in 1999 changed everything.
“Before the persecution started I was an award winning engineer in China. But after the persecution I realized there would be no freedom of belief,” said He.
He decided to immigrate to Canada. In July of 2000 he got his visa but before he left he felt obliged to tell friends and colleagues that state media was broadcasting lies about Falun Gong, whose adherents strive to live by truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, the core principles of the practice.
“The state media aired, almost 24 hours a day, propaganda to vilify our practice and demonize Falun Gong practitioners. So before I was to leave I mailed some letters to friends, explaining the issue.”
But He was already being monitored. Security personnel intercepted his letters and used them as evidence to convict him of “using a heretical organization to undermine the implementation of law.”
He was sentenced to 3.5 years in a show trial. In prison, he was tortured daily.
“The first six months I was held in detention centre in Beijing. Every day I was forced to sit in a fixed posture for long hours, which was very difficult,” he said.
If he moved even slightly, he was savagely beaten. After a few months of sitting in the same position, the skin on his buttocks was festering and bloody. He would have to peel his clothes from his skin when he used the toilet.
That was minor, though, he said.
In the winter of 2000, He was tortured by having ice cold water dumped on him while naked, often for hours at a time. As a result he got a fever that lasted two months and his lungs were permanently damaged, leaving his breathing capacity restricted. He was coughing up blood and urinating blood, but received no medical treatment.
Still weak from the fever, he was transferred to prison in Tianjin where he was forced to run and jump beyond exhaustion as well as do forced labour. At one point, he said, inmates made soccer balls that were shipped to South Korea, he thinks for the Fifa World Cup that was held there in 2002.
Physical pain was only half his suffering—no rest was allowed, and sleep deprivation was common.
“I was deprived of sleep and forced to read material defaming and demonizing Falun Gong,” he said.
The study sessions and sleep deprivation are brainwashing techniques the Chinese regime routinely uses to weaken a person’s mind and mould their thinking.
But He was to get a break. During his imprisonment, his wife moved to Canada, and together with the Falun Gong community here, worked to help him.
He was declared a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International, and in October 2002 Parliament passed motion to rescue imprisoned practitioners with family in Canada, and petitioned for his release.
Thanks to those efforts, after his prison term ended, in January 2004 the Canadian embassy reissued immigration papers and he was able to come to Canada.
He has been touched by the support he has received, he said. Others have been touched by his story and those of Falun Gong practitioners like him. The persecution has seen millions of practitioners incarcerated over the years, resulting in untold suffering and death.
Jason Kenney came out to Parliament Hill to support 400 or so Falun Gong practitioners who were protesting there on the occasion of Premier Li’s visit. It was Kenney’s last day as a Member of Parliament after 20 years.
“There couldn’t have been a nicer thing for me than to be here with you to celebrate freedom of speech on Parliament Hill,” he told the crowd. “You are giving real expression to freedom, freedom of speech, and the aspirations of all Chinese people to live in a free society.”
Kenney raised the plight of others in China who suffer repression for their beliefs, such as Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, Catholics, and underground Christians, among others.
“We Canadians love the people of China,” he said. “China is a great country and we hope one day for a China that enjoys the same rights and freedoms as we Canadians have here. And so today we say to the visiting Chinese premier: Please treat your people with the same respect and rights as we Canadians enjoy.”
Kenney said it was important to remind many Canadians not to take their fundamental rights for granted and to speak up for those who do not enjoy those rights.
“The dignity of the human person, that is what your presence represents here today,” he said.
Fellow Conservative and former cabinet colleague Peter Kent also came out to encourage the group, passing on his call to Premier Li to tell the Chinese government to respect human rights, including freedom of association and speech.
“I hope that Premier Li will see the [protest] signs which urge the Chinese prosecution of Jiang Zemin and bringing him to justice for the crimes that have been so well documented and presented to criminal court in China by more than 200,000 individuals who have been victims in one way or another,” Kent said.
Those crimes were initiated by former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin, and it is he and his allies that current leader Xi Jinping has been targeting.
Kent noted that since Xi and Li are not members of that faction, they could act to stop the persecution of Falun Gong.
“There is hope that [Li] will take back the message … to urge President Xi and the government of the Communist Party to change its ways, to deliver justice to victims, and to ensure that the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and others in China and the harvesting of human organs will cease and desist,” he said.