A Church of Almighty God member recounts to Bitter Winter his horrifying experience serving a four-and-a-half-year jail sentence, received because of his faith.
by Deng Jie
Half a year after his release, Tang Boxuan still lives in fear. A knock on the door could jangle his nerves, make him alert. The trauma from the imprisonment for four and a half years has had an indelible impact on him both physically and mentally. He is afraid of returning to that “hell on earth,” where he was detained.
Treated as a first-degree criminal
In 2014, Tang was arrested for being a member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) and sentenced to prison.
As a rule, all jailed CAG members are regarded as first-degree criminals and subjected to strict control. Each of them is closely monitored by two cellmates 24/7, and they are usually assigned a heavier workload.
Tang Boxuan’s daily assignment was to make 1,800 pieces of electronic parts with extremely thin copper wire. All other inmates were assigned 1,600 pieces per day.
“Failure to accomplish daily assignments would lead to punishments,” Tang recalled. “One unfulfilled quota could result in the punishment to stand up for hours after work; several failures could earn you to be shocked with electric batons, and for a few in the row one could be sent to 15-day solitary confinement or drills.”
Inmates had to work for 11 hours each day. Tang tried to do his best to avoid punishment. His left thumb was soon damaged from daily work, and his nerves were jangled because of the heavy workload, he often couldn’t fall asleep until 3 or 4 a.m.
To obtain maximum profits, the prison exploited inmates who were given only 5-minute lunch breaks in the workshop. Because of the low quality of food, Tang was starved continuously and suffered from dizzy spells from time to time; he nearly passed out twice. Regardless, he didn’t dare to pause to have a break.
Prisoners were also restricted from using the toilet so that they could spend more time working. Unable to urinate when he had to, Tang started experiencing pain in his lower abdomen, and it became difficult for him to relieve himself. Some inmates secretly urinated into their water bottles or plastic bags at their workstations.
“Even animals have the right to use the toilet, but people in jail are treated worse than them,” Tang said. To save time, he tried to drink less to reduce the times to go to the toilet.
Compared to the number of hours they spent working, the prisoners’ pay was meager: they were often unpaid at all or would only get 6 RMB (about $ 0.8) a month, which is not even enough to buy basic toiletries.
When prisoners complained, the secretary of the cell block reprimanded them for challenging the prison administration.
No medical attention even when having a heart attack
Most prisoners of conscience in China’s jails are often deprived of their right to medical treatment, which Tang Boxuan also experienced.
As he recalled, one night during his detention, his heart started beating very fast. His breathing became difficult, and his whole body was wet from cold sweat. As the prison doctor has warned prisoners not to send for him at night, even if they fell sick, Tang had to wait until the morning when his cellmates took him to the infirmary. The doctor mechanically gave him some medicine for three days and sent him back to his cell.
Three days later, Tang’s condition worsened. Further examination revealed that his heart rate was very high, more than 200 times per minute. The doctor said that he had a heart attack, and his situation was very critical, but he just asked Tang’s cellmates to take him back to his cell. Tang could barely speak, but he still asked to inform his family to apply for medical parole but was scolded by guards.
According to the prison rules, prisoners in custody have the right to have their nails and hair cut, and their beards shaved once a week. But the guard once refused this privilege for Tang and other inmates for 40 days. To get rid of their beards and mustaches, prisoners used an ancient Chinese method to shave by using threads from their clothes. The procedure could be excruciating if the hair is long, and inmates’ lips would often get swollen and inflamed the next day.
The Church of Almighty God is the single most heavily persecuted religious movement in China. According to Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code, being a member of a xie jiao (the CAG was included in the list of the xie jiao in 1995) is punishable with imprisonment for three to seven years or more. Some CAG members have spent up to fifteen years in jail.
(A pseudonym was used to protect the man’s identity.)