The CCP indoctrinates believers to give up their faith through beatings, sleep and food deprivation, and other cruel physical and psychological means.
by Xiang Yi
Along with three million Uyghurs and other Muslims, members of banned religious groups in China are also detained in Xinjiang’s transformation through education camps. They, too, are subjected to torture and indoctrination. Several members of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) share with Bitter Winter the stories of inhuman torment they have suffered. We use pseudonyms to protect their identity.
Beaten and deprived of sleep
Gao Jie started the story of her time in the internment camp in northern Xinjiang by remembering how she was beaten for telling her indoctrination instructor that his remarks about her faith were blasphemous. “Guards instructed two other inmates to beat me, who knocked my head against the wall until my face became swollen,” the woman said. “They also threatened to blind me if I refused to write the ‘four statements: repentance, break-up, guarantee, and criticism.” The guards also told her not to tell anyone about what happened in the ‘study class.’
The camp where Gao Jie was detained is in a remote location, and it is surrounded by tall walls with barbed wire. “When we were taken there, we were stripped-searched, guards telling us to do three squats; they then checked our hair,” Gao Jie remembered. “Four armed guards escorted us into the cell block. There were three buildings for the detained, one for women and two for men. Out of the about 400 detainees, most were Uyghur Muslims, Christians, and Falun Gong practitioners.”
Since Gao Jie refused to sign the four statements, she was subjected to more severe persecution. “They handcuffed me to a chair and covered my head with a black hood,” the woman continued. “Over a dozen guards took turns watching me. As soon as I dozed off, they would strike the desk by my side, beat my head, or knock my back with an iron stick. For three days in a row, they did not give me food or water, nor allowed me to use the toilet. Whenever I asked them to be allowed to go to the toilet, they told me to relieve myself on the chair.”
One day, a few female guards forcibly stripped her of all clothes and bathed her before forcing her to have sex with a male guard. “Fortunately, I was having my period at the time, so I narrowly escaped this,” Ms. Gao said, adding that inmates had no rights in the camp; they were monitored through surveillance cameras even when washing.
Gao Jie suffered significant mental and physical injuries because of frequent beatings and torture. She has lost nearly ten kilograms in several months.
As one of the go-to tools to deal with dissent, the CCP often locks up people in mental institutions to “transform” or discredit them. In the case of another interviewed CAG member, she was transferred to a psychiatric hospital for arguing with one of the instructors in the internment camp when he said disrespectful remarks about her faith. “I was forced to take medicine and live listening to cries and screams of patients all day long. I thought of dying on several occasions,” the woman remembered.
Pressured to give up their faith
Through the “studies” in transformation through education camps, the Chinese authorities seek to eradicate the culture and identity of Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims. For CAG members, the goal is to make them give up their faith and accept unquestionably the CCP’s ideology.
“‘Squat, straighten your arms!’ a guard was shouting at us in the corridor outside our cells,” Zhou Min, another detainee at one of the camps, recounted to Bitter Winter. “We had to remain still in half-squat, our arms stretched forward, the guards beating us and shouting if we made a slight movement.”
The woman said that they had to attend indoctrination classes every day, during which they were taught “the spirit of the CCP’s 19th National Congress,” laws and regulations, aimed at forcing CAG members to sign the four statements. Zhou Min revealed that many CAG members were physically punished for refusing to sign them. Sometimes, for several days in a row, they had to stand still from 7 a.m. to midnight. Some people who were in weak health would faint not able to hold on, and guards would lift them and force them to continue standing.
Those refusing to sign had their food rationed. As an only meal of the day, two believers would be given just a small plain steamed bun and a ladle of vegetables to share standing in the corridor.
“Writing the four statements means blasphemy for CAG believers, but they forced us not only to write but also to recite them,” Zhou Min explained. “We don’t want to do this, but not everyone could stand the torment, so some succumbed to pressure. It was excruciating for them.”
Another CAG member recalled that guards not only shocked believers with electricity and slapped them with shoes. They also left them hanging, suspended from their cuffed hands, with books sacred to CAG believers put on the floor: they could relieve the pain only by stepping on them.