A former inmate and a Church of Almighty God member reveal details of mistreatment and torture prevalent in China’s prisons to “transform” people of faith.
by Sun Kairui
Prisoners of conscience in China, including people sentenced for their religious beliefs, are subjected to much stricter control and crueller mistreatment than other inmates. Very often, felons serving their time for serious crimes are involved in aiding prison guards to “transform” people sentenced for “using a xie jiao to undermine law enforcement,” as per Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code. Prisons are even set quotas to ensure that members of religious groups labeled as xie jiao renounce their faith by signing the “three statements” – Statement of Confession, Statement of Criticism, and Statement of Break-up.
According to Article 78 of the Chinese Criminal Code, “a criminal element who is sentenced to control, criminal detention, fixed-term imprisonment or life imprisonment may have his sentence reduced if, during the period his punishment is being executed, he earnestly observes prison regulations, accepts reform through education, truly repents, or performs meritorious service.” These services include informing on and preventing major criminal activities inside and outside the prison, “making inventions or major technological renovation,” risking life to save others, and making “major contributions to the state and society.”
Apparently, transforming believers through torture amounts to “major contributions” to the Chinese state because felons involved in the process regularly have their sentences reduced.
A recently released prisoner told Bitter Winter that his sentence was reduced from 27 to 19 years because he actively participated in supervising and torturing people of faith in his prison. His primary targets were Falun Gong practitioners and members of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), both groups included in the list of the xie jiao.
“Inmates compete with each other to transform as many believers as possible to earn merit toward reducing their sentences,” the former inmate explained. “Those who transform three believers may have their time in prison reduced.”
“The means to transform believers varied—from regular beatings to torture, like keeping believers in cold water in sub-zero temperature or hanging a 10-kg water bucket around their necks,” the man continued. “Prison guards would pretend not to see these violent acts. They just cared for the final result—for people to renounce their faith.” He recalled how a 60-add-year-old Falun Gong practitioner in his cell, unable to bear the torment, attempted suicide by knocking his head against a wall.
“One prisoner of conscience is usually supervised by three inmates, who are called a ‘triple team,’” the ex-convict explained. “One of them is assigned to supervises the believer’s ideology and write reports on his progress. The second is in charge of making sure that he signs the three statements to give up his belief, and the third must ensure that the person doesn’t commit suicide by following him at all times, even when he uses the toilet.”
“Believers in prison have to work during the day and study and write self-reflections in the evening,” he added. “They are sometimes kept in isolation to continuously watch indoctrination videos. Or their hands and feet are cuffed to a torture device called tiger bench for 72 hours, unable to move.”
Members of the triple team must also ensure that believers don’t practice their faith or communicate with other prisoners of conscience.
A CAG member from the eastern province of Zhejiang was supervised by a triple team of female prisoners. The three women told the believer that they were the “elite,” selected by the cell block chief to deal with CAG believers.
Once, the triple team attached a water bottle to each of her nipples with thin ropes and pinned them with iron clips, turning the clips or stroking them with a long plastic ruler. They tortured her that way from 8 in the morning till the evening for four consecutive days.
On several occasions, the triple team put heating or cooling ointments in her panties and kicked her private parts hard, causing severe burning pain. She was once kicked so hard that she fell to the ground, unable to stand up. The three women threatened to kick her for as long as she refused to write the statements to renounce her belief.
The inmates also put heating ointment, chili powder, or disinfectants into her eyes, nose, and mouth. “It felt like countless needles pricked my eyes, causing me to scream from pain,” the CAG member recalled.
The woman also had her hands pricked with a pen until they bled. She was ordered to stand with one book between her legs and another on her head and beaten hard every time one of the books fell. The three torturers dragged her by the breasts, pulling them so hard that she couldn’t move her body from pain for a few days. She was also forced to eat excrement and drink dirty water from a washbasin when she refused to sign the three statements. To humiliate the believer, members of the triple team made her pretend to be riding a motorcycle, making purring sounds, or wrote blasphemous words against her belief on her face, hands, and the soles of her feet, and put sharp walnut shells into her shoes.
“The triple team used every possible means to force me to give up my belief because they wanted to have their penalties reduced as a reward,” the CAG member said. “All items used to torture me, like ropes, iron clips, heating ointments, or walnuts, cannot be accessed in prisons. Prison guards brought them in, and all tortures were conducted on their instructions. Even though surveillance cameras are on every corner in prisons.”
Feeling completely disheartened, the believer attempted several suicides, but all failed. The triple team told her that she could only leave after she gives up her faith, and if she died in prison, her death would be reported as a result of a heart attack.