Reportage, U Magazine, pp36-38, July 2001

2001-8-5-chinese-torture.jpg (180915 bytes)Thousands of Chinese people are being incarcerated in forced labour camps because of their religious beliefs. Dara deFaoite learns about the ongoing nightmare suffered by one Chinese Trinity College student

ZHAO MING arrived in Dublin from China on St Patrick's Day 1999 to take up a postgraduate course in computer science at Trinity College. He was never to complete his studies. A visit home in December that year led to his arrest and incarceration at a forced labour camp outside the Chinese capital, Beijing. Fourteen months later he is still there.

Ming's only crime was his daily practise of the meditative art form, Falun Gong, which was outlawed in China as an "[Jiang Zemin government's slanderous term omitted]" in July I999. Since then the Chinese government has arrested, imprisoned and allegedly tortured over 50,000 followers.

People of all ages have been sent for "re-education" and to forced labour camps around China. Those practicing abroad are exiled and their families intimidated.

Ming's many friends in Dublin have heard nothing of his physical or mental condition since he was taken to Tuan-He labour camp last May.

Up to two million people are picked up under some form of "administrative custody" every year. At least 5% of them are children, according to the Human Rights in China group based in the US.

Practitioners of Falun Gong - which involves breathing exercises and maintaining the principles of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance - are among one of the most heavily repressed groups under the [party' name omitted] regime.

"He is very clever and he was able to lose the police and mingle among friends because he knew the city"

Dai Dongxue (34) a Microsoft employee runs Falun Gong classes in Trinity and hasn't had her passport renewed by the Chinese embassy. She is now all too aware that she would be arrested as an important "[Jiang Zemin government's slanderous term omitted]" if she was to return home.

"Ming's passport was confiscated on his arrival home and he was followed by government agents as a suspected member of Falun Gong," explained Dai.

"He is very clever, though, and because he had studied and worked in Beijing for over 10 years he was able to lose the police and mingle among friends because he knew the city," she said.

It wasn't until Ming needed to get a job that the authorities caught up with him early last year.

"There was no sign of him for several months until his family traced him to a labour camp outside Beijing," said Dai.

According to reports, Ming has been beaten by guards using electric batons and only allowed two hours sleep a day. His captors also tried to force him to write anti-Falun Gong material.

Falun Gong sources claim that torture at the detention camps has led to 140 deaths since their faith was banned in July 1999".

The Beijing government denies that any torture occurs but admits that many Falun Gong members have died while in prison.

Dai and Ming made their last visit home in December 1999, two weeks apart but both were very aware of the dangers.

"I was very scared going through the customs into China," explained Dai. "My hands were sweating because I was told if they discovered or suspected you practised Falun Gong you would be arrested.

"We all just wanted to go home and see what was happening because we were hearing these horrible reports from our families and friends."

Ming was introduced to Falun Gong by his mother in 1994. Two months before his return to China he hosted a Falun Gong exhibition at the Mind, Body and Spirit convention for alternative healing at the RDS in Dublin.

"I introduced Ming to Ireland because I felt it was a nice, peaceful country with a lot of greenery which would be very suitable to practise in," said Dai.

"Before the ban almost every green patch in Beijing and other cities around China were used as meditation centres," she said. "There were two practise sites five minutes from my home and every day there would be 50-60 people meditating in the morning - now they are empty."

"I am never sorry I discovered this even though a lot of terrible things are happening"

While Dai is living and working in Ireland without a valid passport, her family in China have been persecuted due to their involvement with Falun Gong.

"My brother has been detained and tortured several times. One of my sisters has spent three years in a labour camp. Another sister escaped when police tried to arrest her at her job," said Dai. "She was very brave, she jumped from a third-floor window in her workplace and some people on the street helped her escape. She had to leave home and has been wandering around like a homeless person ever since.

"The [party' name omitted] party wants to control our minds. When I was in school I was taught that [party' name omitted] was the absolute truth of the world and that there were no other options. I don't want to go back right now because I would be arrested. If that happened I couldn't help anybody so I am of more use outside."

Despite her exile and her family's persecution, Dai has no regrets about being part of a spiritual movement she only took up five years ago.

"A man was sitting opposite me on a train two weeks before I came to Ireland in 1996," she said. "I was reading Qigong of which Falun Gong is a part. He asked me if I was interested in the latter and gave me a book which I read while travelling to Ireland."

Leaving behind the harsh regime of Chinese [party' name omitted] the book's principles of "truthfulness, compassion and forbearance", stated as the "characteristics of the universe which all lives should follow" appealed to Dai.

"I am never sorry I discovered this even though a lot of terrible things are happening. I still believe that was a lucky day in my life on the train," she said. "I used to have migraine and my neck and back were always tired. After all sorts of medicine Falun Gong was the only thing that helped me."

Human-rights campaigners such as Amnesty International are highlighting the plight of people like Ming and cases such as 28-year-old Li Mei who reportedly died of injuries sustained at the Hefei women's labour camp. Her family were not allowed to examine her body.

An Amnesty International report earlier this year claimed that out of the 120 Falun Gong deaths it has looked into, 17 jumped to their death, according to official reports, and 15 "fell" while in detention.

The group's study also revealed evidence of force feeding carried out by people with no medical training, resulting in damage to the windpipe and other physical complications.

Ming's future remains very uncertain. According to Dai, he might be released if enough pressure is put on the Chinese government by international powers or "he might stay there forever".

She has raised the issue with Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen whose department is now studying her case and that of, Ming. However, even in the face of worldwide criticism and globally-documented instances of torture and systematic repression, the Chinese government remains defiant.

According to state propaganda, Falun Gong is a politically motivated movement with the aim of overthrowing the Chinese government. However, no evidence of any such conspiracy amongst it's practitioners has been produced.

The government reported that over 1,000 women followers of Falun Gong were successfully "re-educated" through a "labour institute" in February.

"The president said he would have Falun Gong eliminated within three months but that was 20 months ago," said Dai.

In April 1999, on foot of increasing persecutions in the run up to a total ban, a peaceful rally was staged outside the leadership's headquarters next to the Forbidden City in Beijing.

More than 10,000 devotees, ordinary people, pensioners, housewives, even [party' name omitted] party members surrounded the president's HQ. The event went off peacefully but the persecutions continued.

China's poor human-rights record has once again come under the international spotlight as the country bids to stage the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Delegates from the International Olympic Committee have already been led through the polished streets of Beijing, but are they prepared to overlook the harsh undercurrent of a system that denies people the right to practise their faith?