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From torture to the organ market: what it’s like to get into a Chinese prison

The history of former prisoners and evidence of foreign specialists about one of the most closed penitentiary systems in the world.

The security guard looks through the corridor window at the Beijing detention center, October 2012. Getty Photos

In the world ranking on the number of occupancy of prisons, China, whose population is almost 1.4 billion people, is in second place. The exact number of prisoners is difficult to determine, but, according to public organizations, it ranges from 1.649 million to 2.3 million people. This impressive statistics for Asia and even more ambitious for Europe, where the leadership in the ranking of the rating on the number of people sentenced is consistently held by Russia – about 590 thousand people.

Despite the scale, information about living conditions in Chinese prisons remains largely closed, and if it seeps into the media, it is often precipitous and inaccurate. Many human rights defenders spent more than one year collecting data, but they can not cover all the details of prison conditions. That is why one of the main sources of information about what is happening in one of the largest penitentiary systems of the world are Chinese residents and foreigners who stayed and left.

Where religion meets with torture

“Spiritual energy of the wheel of the law,” “Hard work with the wheel of learning,” “The great law of the wheel of learning,” are just a few options for translating the name of the religious movement of Falun Gong that swept China in the 1990s. It is based on traditional Chinese gymnastics and combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. According to adherents, the essence of the current lies in the physical and spiritual development of man.

Belief, founded by a native of the province of Jilin Li Hongzhi, gained popularity in the booming China. Builders, businessmen, students, officials – interest in Falun Gong covered the inhabitants of the country. At some point the adherents of the current began to consider themselves more than 100 million people – for the Communist Party, which has long watched the religious boom, it was the final sign to action.

Seeing in a new religious current a real threat, the Chinese authorities delivered a preemptive strike, which marked thousands of people on prison terms. In 1999, the Communist Party declared Falun Gong to be outlawed, allegedly because the current showed signs of a sect (in Russia, books about the teachings are included in the extremist list). Soon many supporters of the current began to be arrested sometimes even for the most insignificant reasons.

Adherents of Falun Gong in Hong Kong (because of the large autonomy in this part of China, religion is not prohibited). Reuters photo

It was such a fate that befell Jintao Liu (Jintao Liu). He worked as a teacher at the school until in the early 2000s during a police check on his teacher’s computer they found a file with a book about Falun Gong. The man did not explain what he was accused of, but he already understood this. From 2006 to 2009, the Chinese spent at the Beijing detention center and labor camp, where he was regularly beaten, tortured and humiliated.

In a conversation with one of the largest news publications in Australia, Jintao described how one day he had his knitting needles under his nails and forced to stand outside for about 18 hours. For trying to change the pose or just move it beat. On another occasion, the prisoner was stripped to the goal by four guards and threatened to rape with improvised means, “to make gay.”

Hongbin Lin faced police brutality against the adherents of the forbidden current several years earlier. In 2002, he was sentenced to six years in prison for going out with the banner “Falun Gong is good”. The court ruled that in this way the man tried to “disrupt the work of law enforcement agencies.”

Hongbin Lin. Screenshot from the report

According to Hongbin, in the first months he was beaten by guards and tortured with electric shocks until the charge ran out. A similar technique was applied to many of the sentenced, but sometimes they did not survive and died. There was no gender division: the protection of women prisoners was no less cruel. Chang Zhi Yue (Chang Zhi Yue) spent four years in Beijing prison, after experiencing dozens of clashes.

According to the woman, nine guards tortured her about five hours: she received several severe injuries, including a crack in the skull and spine. Another time, the staff of the institution put Chiang Chi on a chair and began to pull her legs in different directions until her thigh cracked. Before that, the Chinese woman was beaten, striking both the body and the face.

This level of cruelty in Chinese prisons was explained by the country’s closure from international organizations. With the coming to power of Communists in the mid-20th century, the PRC stopped conducting independent investigations into what was happening in prisons. In 2005, UN staff arrived there, but their actions were strictly monitored and not allowed to communicate with both foreign and Chinese prisoners.

In 2006, the UN inspection concluded that 66% of prisoners in Chinese prisons counted or considered themselves to be Falun Gong supporters.

Particularly stubborn adherents of religion were sent to special centers, where they forcefully refused to believe. Prisoners were regularly shown films criticizing and calling Falun Gong sectarian beliefs. The dissenters were beaten and forced to look at records, and sometimes hung up to the ceiling by their wrists or beaten with an electric shock, demanding to abandon their convictions.

According to the testimony of former prisoners, there was an “intensive course”. He assumed regular beatings, interrogations, audio and video propaganda, as well as a ban on rest and sleep, until a person renounces beliefs or confesses to new crimes. The current Chinese leadership claims that all such centers have long been closed and dismantled, but this information can not be verified. Former residents of institutions say that they are very difficult to find, since they are located in the far corners of the country.

Business on prisoners

In February 2018, an American, Peter Humphrey , told about his experience of staying in a Chinese prison from 2014 to 2015 . He worked as a private investigator in the country and investigated the case of major bribes in a pharmaceutical company when the police accused him of “illegally collecting personal information about Chinese citizens.”

As the American recalled, he was first sent to the center for the detention of immigrants, where, due to poor and unsanitary conditions, he developed symptoms of prostate cancer, a hernia and prolonged diarrhea, along with a back injury. None of these ailments were treated. Thirteen months later, Humphrey was sent to Shanghai prison. There he was regularly monitored by two fellow inmates who informed him of his actions to the prison authorities.

At first the guards treated Humphrey neutrally, but everything changed with the arrival of the new captain. He provoked an American, insulted and demanded to confess to new crimes, threatening with a punishment cell or extending the term. Despite the fact that several times a man saw how he beat prisoners, he did not succumb to threats. In response, the defense ignored his request to allow the examination and begin treatment of prostate cancer.

Humphrey and his girlfriend Yu Yingzeng, with whom he conducted an investigation in China. Photos from the personal archive of the private detective

Humphrey personally became convinced that rumors about the use of prisoners in production are true. Many of the sentenced worked with raw materials for future brand products 3M, C & A or H & M. Sometimes people started after dinner, and finished only late at night. For this and other activities, including work in the kitchen or washing floors, paid about 17 dollars a month.

However, many Chinese prisoners have completely different memories of prison work than the foreigner. In fact, so-called “labor camps” still exist in the country, which appeared in the first years of the Communist Party’s rule. In 2012, Al Jazeera found out that such institutions are still working, after which the journalists of the publication were banned from entering China.

It follows from the report that over a thousand dispersed labor camps, disguised as farms or factories.

There secretly send prisoners, forcing to work in production on pain of beating or death. Free labor is used for everything from industrial to household goods.

The Chinese authorities are carefully fighting any leaks of information about these centers, as American and European laws prohibit the sale of things in the country, in the creation of which forced labor was used. Nevertheless, the Al Jazeera investigation showed that Chinese companies are openly engaged in the supply of such products without fear of state sanctions. Depending on the conditions, the sentenced were forced to work part of the day or the whole day to be on time.

For the first time, the fraudulent scheme of Chinese institutions to circumvent Western rules became known in the early 2000s. Since the US and European countries refused to accept goods, the creation of which involved prisoners, they were passed through the so-called “window”. It worked and, perhaps, continues to work as follows.

The Chinese customer appealed to the management of the prison with a proposal to produce in exchange for a percentage of profits. After the prisoners finished their part of the work, the goods were sent to the front company, which finished the products. She also dealt with the final part of the scheme – selling things to the US and Europe. The benefit was obvious: the customer saved on the labor, losing at the same time a small percentage of the quality of the goods.

As journalists Al Jazeera found out, in 2001 a member of one of the client companies signed a deal with the US State Department. In exchange for information about the fraudulent scheme, the man was promised political asylum. The informant, along with his wife and son, crossed the Chinese border and reached Vladivostok, after which he applied for a visa to the United States.

For some strange reason, the man was refused the delivery of documents. Soon after, the Russian immigration service sent the Chinese home. Since then, nothing is known about his condition and whereabouts.

Execution as a way of making a profit

In December 2017, thousands of residents of Guangdong Province gathered for an unusual spectacle – the imposition of the death sentence on ten defendants accused of drug trafficking, robbery and murder. After the end of the trial, the convicts were taken from the big stage where the sentence was imposed, and, according to the media, was soon executed. Some eyewitnesses filmed the verdict on the phone, while others spoke quietly or smoked in the side.

According to Amnesty International, in 2005, 1,770 death sentences were carried out in China . At the same time, some activists claimed that the real figure is more than eight thousand people. Since then, statistics have not changed much – according to the Dui Hua Foundation, in 2016 more than two thousand people were executed in the country , including for the sale of drugs on a large scale and economic crimes.

This kind of statistics is partly due not only to the fact that there are more than a billion people living in China. A more important role is played by the fact that in 99% of cases the court sided with the prosecution, increasing the risk of judicial error. For example, in 2016, the Chinese police admitted that in 1995, falsely sentenced to death a man found guilty of rape and murder.

The scene in Guangdong Province, where the trial took place. Photos by The Paper

According to public organizations and rare witnesses of what is happening in Chinese prisons, a record high number of death sentences may be associated with the business of selling internal organs.

“There is no law that would explicitly prohibit such practices,” said Sophia Bryskine , a spokesman for the Australian branch of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting. According to the woman, activists closely monitor such activities in China, where, despite the demands of the UN, it turned into a business.

Former prisoner Jintao Liu for a long time did not believe in the “theft of organs” of the dead, taking this for gloomy rumors. He changed his mind after the guards sent him into a cell with drug addicts and drug dealers. The sentenced began to beat the man, but at some point one of them called on the others “not to touch internal organs.” “It seemed strange to me that they were disturbed by my organs, not by my life,” explained Jintao.

In the early 2000s, former criminal lawyer in Chongqing, Qiu Xingsheng, told theAmerican media that he was personally present at the executions. According to him, usually the sentenced knelt on his back to the guard, and he shot him in the back of his head with a pistol.

Sometimes the executor of the sentence could advise the prisoner to open his mouth, so that the bullet that hit the back of the head came out without damaging the face.

It is difficult to say how many internal organs of the condemned are on the black market in China, since there is no official statistics. Formally, the authorities banned the sale of internal organs of executed prisoners in 2014, but Western experts believe that in fact nothing has changed. In 2016, Canadian human rights defenders found that about 60 to 100,000 internal organs were transplanted annually in Chinese hospitals. Although official departments report only about 10 thousand transplants.

In 2016, a native of Sweden, George Karimi, published a book ” Life imprisonment in China “, which tells of his seven-year experience in a Chinese prison. In addition to stories of beatings, exhausting interrogations and bad conditions for the cell, the man also told about cases of the theft of internal organs sentenced to death. As the author claimed, sometimes in such cases the relatives of the deceased were not given a body, but sent an urn to the ashes. In addition, the book mentioned a certain cellmate Karimi: he constantly praised the Chinese government in spite of the fact that it was the Communist Party that sentenced the man to death.

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