Hua Lianyou only ended up serving a few months of his seven-year prison sentence in Binhai Prison, in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, before he was sent home—on a stretcher.
The efforts of friends and family, and the signatures and red-ink thumbprints of nearly 9,000 Chinese villagers who were outraged at his case had secured Hua’s release.
The official backdown on Hua’s case in the face of such pressure comes as the persecution against the peaceful spiritual practice stretches into its 14th year, and is another sign that public opposition, and faltering political will in the face of continued staunch resistance, are combining to stifle the violent campaign.
Hua was arrested by police in Tianjin on April 24, 2012, because he was practicing the Falun Gong exercises—slow-motion movements that look a bit like tai chi—in public, and distributing information about the practice.
One month later he embarked on a hunger strike in protest. That hunger strike was said to have lasted an extraordinary 600 days, according to Minghui.org, a main Falun Gong website that carried the news of Hua’s release.
Hua was put through a show trial in September of last year and summarily convicted of “using an evil religious organization to undermine the law.” The trial was secretly held in a prison hospital, while Hua was lying in bed. He was sentenced to prison for seven years.
The legal basis of the sentence was fiercely disputed by Hua’s lawyer, who pointed out, “China has no law that defines Falun Gong as an evil religious organization, and there has been no witness evidence to prove that Falun Gong practitioners violate any enforcement of law.”
During the lengthy hunger strike, Binhai Prison authorities used a feeding tube to keep Hua alive. They also tortured him in an attempt to force him to renounce his faith, he later said.
Hua told family members during a visit that he was being beaten both in hospital and prison, and that at one point, guards sharpened one end of the tube before shoving it down his throat and into his stomach.
His wife’s formal complaints to the Tianjin Justice Bureau and the Bureau of Prisons were ignored.
Death at Any Time
Requests to Binhai Prison to release Hua for medical parole were routinely refused. “We’ll wait until he’s almost dead” was what guards told his wife, according to Minghui.
A prison doctor whom the family was able to speak to remarked on Hua’s condition: “He could die at any time.”
In November of last year the authorities put a stop to the visits, and again demanded that if the family wanted any leniency, they would have to force Hua to sign a statement renouncing Falun Gong.
According to Minghui, other Falun Gong practitioners are in Binhai Prison. Some have died from torture there. One Falun Gong prisoner, Ren Shengdong, was reportedly tortured with psychotropic drugs and went insane. Minghui listed others who were physically maimed from the savage torture dealt them.
From August of last year, Hua’s family began gathering signatures—starting with their friends and neighbors—demanding that the authorities let Hua go. In one month they got 3,622 signatures. These consisted of a name, plus a red ink thumbprint.
The symbolism of this form of protest is not lost on the communist authorities. In ancient China the red wax thumbprint was used on petitions to the court to redress the gravest injustices perpetrated by local officials. Also, buy using their own names in such a document, thousands of Chinese are demonstrating that they are not willing to be cowed by the authorities, who have in the past declared their campaign against Falun Gong a political priority and severely punished supporters.
In response to the petitioning, local police began making more arrests, targeting a number of Falun Gong practitioners who had organized the letter, while visiting and harassing others who had participated.
By November 2013, however, another 5,233 Chinese in Tianjin City and nearby Shandong Province had signed and stamped the letter, bringing the total number of supporters to 8,855.
In the face of this public response, local authorities quietly let Hua go recently, Minghui said.
The release of Hua is the latest sign that the campaign against the Falun Gong spiritual practice, which had attracted over 70 million followers in the 1990s, is becoming increasingly difficult for the authorities to sustain in the face of public pressure.
The campaign was started by former regime leader Jiang Zemin, who saw Falun Gong’s popularity as an implicit challenge to the primacy of the Communist Party, despite the avowedly apolitical nature of the practice, which includes slow exercises and is based around the three principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.
Hua Lianyou, who is 52, began practicing Falun Gong in 1997. His health rapidly improved, according to Minghui. He has been imprisoned twice for his beliefs, at one point for five years.
The persecution of Falun Gong in China is still nationwide, and is now in its 14th year. Potentially millions of Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested, detained, and beaten, and sent to brainwashing centers, labor camps, and mental hospitals.
In 2013, 9 Falun Gong practitioners in China died from persecution, while 192 were detained on legally questionable grounds. Six were sent to labor camps, and 17 were jailed, according to an annual report on the persecution compiled by Minghui.
The data is known to be incomplete due to strict information controls exercised by the Communist Party.