Beatings and force-feeding are only some of the horrors witnessed by Falun Gong practitioner Qiu Xiaoyun, who was sent to Nantong Women's Prison for her beliefs. In addition to imposing strict ideological control, guards instigated inmates to assault imprisoned practitioners as part of systematic brainwashing carried out in prisons and detention centres throughout China.
Nantong Women's Prison is divided into six wards, each of which has a “transformation team” headed by the ward's political instructor. In its brutal persecution of the spiritual practice, the Chinese Communist regime emphasizes the “transformation” of Falun Gong practitioners, i.e. forcing them to give up their beliefs, almost always through mental manipulation and physical abuse.
However, not only practitioners but also some guards and inmates began to resist the indoctrination. Below, Qiu recounts both atrocities and glimmers of hope she saw in the prison where she was confined for almost three years.
Isolation and Bombardment of Lies
The prison developed a systematic approach to conduct brainwashing of practitioners in its attempt to make us renounce our belief in Falun Gong. Within each ward, the practitioners were placed in separate cells and not allowed to see one another. Under isolation, we were bombarded day in and day out with various materials vilifying Falun Gong.
In the first ward, where I was incarcerated, prison guard Chen Cuiping and deputy political instructors Liu Tingting and Wang Yan were the most active in brainwashing and torturing practitioners.
Chen forced us to read Party propaganda and watch videos slandering Falun Gong, commit disrespectful acts against Falun Gong and its founder, and write “thought reports” renouncing our beliefs.
Mere exposure to the plethora of lies was not enough: each practitioner must also pass frequent “tests” to demonstrate parting ways with Falun Gong. Those who failed the tests were subjected to more coercive brainwashing, mental and/or physical abuse.
In addition, we were forced to attend prison-wide quarterly meetings to report our thoughts on the matter of Falun Gong. The prison authorities used the meetings and examinations to evaluate the results of the practitioners' “transformation.”
During one meeting, a practitioner in her 60s from the sixth ward stood up and fearlessly spoke about her and her husband's experiences of practicing Falun Gong, the positive changes they experienced, and their efforts of trying to tell the public about the persecution.
Yin Hongyun, head of the Division of Transformation and Re-education and organizer of the quarterly meetings, was infuriated and forbade this practitioner from attending future meetings.
To increase the transformation rate, prison authorities forced the “transformed” practitioners to participate in the brainwashing of more steadfast practitioners.
Families of detained practitioners were also targeted. Before they were allowed visitation, they were required to produce a certificate from their local neighbourhood committee or police station that guaranteed they were not practitioners themselves. Moreover, family members were sometimes forced to exert further pressure on their loved ones to give up practising Falun Gong.
Physical Abuse and Mental Damage
When I was sent to the prison in March 2010, there were seven other practitioners detained with me in the first ward, including:
• Xu Qin (sentenced to 10 years)
• Sun Meihua (5.5 years)
• Cheng Mei (5 years)
• Lu Shouhua (7 years)
• Yin Weiping (4 years)
• Zhao Yuqin (5 years)
• Wang Chenlin (3 years)
Practitioner Cheng Mei suffered severe mental damage as a result of the intensive brainwashing sessions. In 2009, she was taken to the Pukou Prison for the mentally ill in Nanjing. After she was transferred back to Nantong Women's Prison in May 2010, she had all kinds of illnesses beyond the treatment capabilities of the prison hospital. Prison authorities eventually released her on medical parole.
Practitioner Xu Qin resisted the brainwashing. Prison guards and inmate Zhao Chun forced her to run under the scorching sun during hot summer days and write thought reports at night. Sometimes, she was made to stand for the entire night as punishment.
Prison guard Chen Cuiping also instigated inmates to verbally abuse and beat Xu Qin. Zhao Chun was one of the inmates who beat Xu multiple times. Zhao was a Communist Party member and used to be the vice president of a company in Yanzhou City, before being sentenced to eight years in prison for corruption and embezzlement. With the authorities' permission and instigation, she did not hold back in beating practitioners.
The authorities asked Xu Qin's parents to come to the prison, where they were ordered to kneel in front of their daughter to beg her to give up her practice of Falun Gong. Guards gathered other inmates to watch the scene and dispersed rumours that Falun Gong practitioners did not love their families and had no respect for their parents.
With no other means to protest her maltreatment, Xu Qin went on a hunger strike. The guards started to force-feed her through her nostrils while they continued to brainwash her, day and night. Because Xu refused to give in, she was taken to the Pukou Prison in April 2011, where she was subjected to more torture and psychiatric drug injections.
Three months later, Xu was transferred back to Nantong Women's Prison. She was reduced to a skeletal state, with her head shaved, eyes gazing into the distance, and face emotionless. Despite her dire state of health, the prison authorities picked the worst inmates to watch her around the clock. These inmates cursed and beat Xu frequently in an attempt to please the prison guards.
Practitioner Wang Chenlin, between the age of 55 and 60, was transferred to the first ward in November 2012. She was watched by inmates at all times while four prison guards took turns to brainwash her. Due to the practitioners' isolation and limited information, I learned only that she was a resident of Huaiyin City, had a bachelor's degree, and was in poor health.
By the time I was released in January 2013, Xu Qin and Wang Chenlin were still incarcerated in the first ward.
Guards and Inmates Becoming More Conscious of Persecution
The brainwashing was not limited to practitioners: prison authorities also tried to indoctrinate young guards and non-practitioner inmates. Frequently, guards and inmates who had spent some time with practitioners would ask, “What crime did Falun Gong practitioners commit?” Wang Yan, one of the deputy political instructors, would proclaim brazenly, “They committed a crime against society.” Few believed her.
One of the younger guards was Chen Yan. She could not remain silent after seeing how inmates had treated practitioner Xu Qin. She told the inmates, “Don't treat her badly. She is not the same as you. She did not commit any crime except for having her own beliefs.”
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