NEW YORK – Throughout China, citizens who practise Falun Gong have faced a new round of intensified persecution in recent months as the Communist Party prepares for its 18th Party Congress on November 8th. Practitioners and human rights lawyers in China have reported increased abductions to brainwashing centres, torture, long prison terms, and greater pressure on those in detention to "transform".
"Lately the persecution of Falun Gong has been quite severe," remarked prominent lawyer Jiang Tianyong on Twitter in August. "There were several cases with more than 10 year sentences [handed down]. There were six defendants in one case in Harbin… 4 people [were slapped] with 14 years, 1 with 13 years, 1 with 11 years of sentencing. It's truly crazy!"
Jiang was almost certainly referring to the case of Ms Tian Xiaoping, 51 and at least five others from Northeast China. Police abducted them in November 2011 while they visited the widow and daughter of a practitioner who had been tortured to death at nearby Jiamusi prison, a case that was the subject of a petition signed by thousands (news). They were given the above sentences over the summer after a sham trial.
Other similarly long sentences have been handed down for Falun Gong practitioners elsewhere in China, by judges under the influence of Communist Party committees. Also in July, judges in Tangshan sentenced two men – Mr Zheng Xianxing and Mr Bian Licao – to 10 and 12 years in prison, respectively, for practising Falun Gong and distributing DVDs of the Chinese performing arts show Shen Yun. Over 1,200 people rallied in support of Mr Zheng, signing a petition calling for his release (more on petitions).
Abduction to brainwashing centres
In some cities, security forces have also been abducting local residents and taking them to makeshift detention centres for "re-education" earning them the label "brainwashing centres" by detainees.
The use of such centres has generally seen a revival since 2010, as part of a renewed three year campaign to "transform" Falun Gong practitioners (Analysis). Nevertheless, police in some parts of China have told detainees or their families that the person was taken away to be held – sometimes for months – until after the 18th Party Congress.
One schoolteacher from Hebei Province, Ms Lu Caixia, was abducted, had her home ransacked, and taken to such a centre in July. Her family repeatedly sought to visit her and demanded her release, but she was told explicitly that she would be kept in detention until after the congress in November.
Among those abducted are also some who will not be returning home. Last month, a 65-year-old woman from southern China died after just three weeks in custody at a brainwashing centre in Hunan Province. Police abducted her from her home in September, announcing that she “had some learning to do" ahead of the 18th Communist Party Congress, according to sources in China.
Intensified persecution inside prisons
Meanwhile, details smuggled out from inside certain prison camps indicate that an intensified round of torture is being meted out within prison walls. In Jilin's Gongzhuling Prison and Heilongjiang's Women's Prison, for example, sources in China have relayed to the Chinese-language Minghui.org that practitioners who had refused to renounce their faith and be "transformed" were transferred to a special section for intensified abuse. According to the husband of Falun Gong practitioner Sun Fengjie, she was unrecognisably thin when he visited her on September 7th. She said she was being deprived of sleep and forced to sit on a tiny stool 14 hours a day.