Harbin Woman Still Haunted by Prison Abuse 12 Years after Being Released
(Minghui.org) Dinner time had already passed in the prison, but inmates were still making Ms. Zhao Yalun stay outside in the freezing cold with no food or her winter clothes. To torture her further, one inmate started hitting her hands, swollen from frostbite, with a bamboo broom, causing her to yelp.
Despite the pain, Ms. Zhao remained steadfast in her faith in Falun Gong, a spiritual and meditation discipline (also known as Falun Dafa) that has been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since July 1999. Because of her noncompliance, the inmates threw her into a pile of snow and started to covered her completely.
She was finally saved from death when another Falun Gong practitioner rushed out of her cell, distracting the inmates.
This happened on December 2, 2003, while Ms. Zhao, 75, was serving five years for refusing to renounce her faith in Falun Gong. She was released from prison on August 29, 2007. More than a decade has since passed, but what she suffered in prison and other places of detention haunt her to this day.
Arrested for Appealing
Ms. Zhao is a resident of Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province. She started practicing Falun Gong in 1996 to help her illnesses. After reading the main text, Zhuan Falun, she was intrigued by the principles in the book, which changed her outlook on life. Ms. Zhao decided to follow the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance to become a good person.
When the communist regime started persecuting Falun Gong, Ms. Zhao went to Beijing in December 2000 to appeal and was subsequently detained at the Harbin No. 2 Detention Center.
The living conditions in the detention center were very poor and those detained were not allowed to use the toilet. Instead, they were forced to sit on a small stool all day long, which caused them to develop scabies due to poor ventilation.
To force Falun Gong practitioners to renounce their faith, a group of inmates would adopt every possible means, including various hard and soft tactics, to "transform" the practitioners. It was under such conditions that Ms. Zhao agreed to write a guarantee statement, after reaching her mental breaking point.
Ms. Zhao was released home after nearly four months. The months of detention had taken a toll on her body both physically and mentally. For a long time, she felt guilty for agreeing to be transformed.
“That pain accompanied me every night. I would cry myself to sleep and wake up in the morning with regret,” she said. “I had lost my joy in life and felt like crying every time I thought about how I betrayed Master Li (the founder) and Dafa.”
She decided to write a statement to declare her guarantee statement invalid, and that she will begin to practice Falun Gong again.
In 2001, Ms. Zhao was arrested again with other practitioners when they went to paste Falun Gong posters on the streets. She was released home a few hours later.
Just a year after her second arrest, Ms. Zhao was at her home on August 30, 2002, when a few plainclothes policemen knocked on her door. They pried open her door with a crowbar when she refused to open it. After opening her door, the group dashed in, shoved her to the ground, and handcuffed her.
The police then searched her home and found a stack of leaflets on Falun Gong. They subsequently confiscated her music player, Falun Gong books, and many other personal items before taking her to the Harbin Nangang Police Department's branch office to be interrogated.
Ms. Zhao refused to betray anyone when she was asked to confess how she received the leaflets. Later, Ms. Zhao learned that the police had falsified the quantity of the items that were confiscated from her home, and thus refused to sign the list of confiscated items.
She also recalled how the person in charge of the case told her that he wanted to be rewarded for “performing a meritorious service” from handling her case. The police later sent her to the Harbin No. 2 Detention Center.
At the detention center, she experienced humiliation when she was told to remove all her clothes and squat a few times or risk being beaten. Ms. Zhao also experienced other inhumane treatment first-hand.
“When night comes, everyone was made to 'become a sardine' and forced to sleep on their side with their chest leaning against another person's back,” Ms. Zhao recalled. “There will be no space to sleep if one comes back from the toilet. As there was always an inmate on duty, the inmate will assist in stuffing the person back onto the ground, which was a painful process [for everyone].”
Ms. Zhao added that many of those detained at the center developed constipation after they were always hurried out of the restroom whenever they went. She also said that due to the poor ventilation and being forced to sit on a small stool the whole day, many people developed scabies, including herself.
Sentenced Without Proper Court Procedures
One day, two policemen came to take Ms. Zhao to a room with several other officers. One of them asked her if she had given a leaflet to him. She didn't answer. Then, this officer asked about her personal situation, which had Ms. Zhao asking the officers when will her trial be held.
“This is your trial,” said an officer, and proceeded to ask her if she would continue to practice Falun Gong.
Ms. Zhao replied resolutely, “Yes!”
She was sentenced to five years in prison and sent to the Heilongjiang Women's Prison on March 21, 2003.
The sentence surprised Ms. Zhao as the police told her previously they would be releasing her and asked her to sign a document. The police had deceived her.
“Since then, I've seen their true colors and would no longer sign any documents that the police asked me to,” she said.
Torture in Prison
In order to force Falun Gong practitioners to give up their belief, prison guards used to torture and the criminal inmates to carry out their orders.
Buried in Snow and an Inmate's Change of Heart
To protest their illegal imprisonment, Ms. Zhao and other Falun Gong practitioners refused to wear inmate name tags. In response, prison officials forced them to stay in freezing cold weather with little food, and no water or toilet breaks. After seven days, Ms. Zhao was the only one who still refused to wear the tag.
There was still snow on the ground at the time. An inmate named Li Mei and several other inmates took off Ms. Zhao's winter jacket and trousers. Then, one inmate started to hit and swear at Ms. Zhao, even using a bamboo broom to hit her hands swollen by frostbite, causing her to cry out in pain. They took her back inside.
“After calming down, I recalled that I'm a Falun Gong practitioner and shouldn't be like that. So, I decided not to utter a sound anymore,” Ms. Zhao said.
However, the torture didn't end. The inmates took her out again and threw her into a pile of snow. They shoveled snow on top of her until her whole body was covered. Fortunately, she was saved in the nick of time when another practitioner rushed out of her prison cell, distracting the inmates.
The next night, inmate Li Mei asked Ms. Zhao, “What do you think of me?”
“I carry no hatred or resentment toward you,” she said, calmly looking into Li's eyes. Li was speechless. The next day, she came up to Ms. Zhao and gave her a thumbs-up. “I admire you, Auntie Zhao.” It seemed that Li had decided to turn over a new leaf.
Afterward, the rest of the inmates developed a whole new level of respect for Falun Gong practitioners.
In the same ward, there was a girl who was mute. Ms. Zhao would take care of her and tell her “Falun Dafa is good.” She even made a sound after trying to learn what Ms. Zhao was saying. Later, someone told Ms. Zhao that the girl cried until she had a sore throat after seeing how practitioners were tortured by other inmates.
“There was another inmate who had hit me before. However, she later changed her attitude towards me and even started telling me her innermost thoughts and feelings,” said Ms. Zhao as she recalled the inmates' change in attitude.
'Falun Dafa is Good'
Prison police took roll call every evening at 8:00 p.m. Starting in early 2004, after she was beaten for explaining what Falun Gong was, Ms. Zhao answered at roll call with “Falun Dafa is Good.”
Nothing happened to her on the first day. However, Ms. Zhao was transferred to another cell the next day, where she was beaten and handcuffed. One night she was put into solitary confinement, where her hands were cuffed behind her and attached to a ring affixed to the ground. She was made to stay in this position for 15 days straight, with only limited restroom breaks.
When she was released from solitary confinement, she still answered at roll call with “Falun Dafa is Good.” Police eventually kept her inside her cell so that she would not come out for roll call anymore.
Kicked, Handcuffed and Hung Up
Once, Ms. Zhao and other Falun Gong practitioners were forced to run under the scorching sun. When Ms. Zhao slowed down, inmate Li kicked her from behind, knocking her to the ground. Another time, an officer slapped Ms. Zhao so hard that her eardrum ruptured and started bleeding.
In March 2004, Ms. Zhao was transferred to another prison division where she was handcuffed and hung up on a window frame with her toes barely touching the ground. This was only on her second night there.
Another time, the prison was playing videos that slander Falun Gong. Seeing this, Ms. Zhao pointed out that the video was fake and she was punished.
“After a short while, two inmates came into the room and restrained me with a belt before leaving me at the prison lobby. When noon came, they refused to let me use the toilet and starting swearing at me, saying that I was disturbing them from resting,” Ms. Zhao said.
During her time in the prison, Ms. Zhao was injured by an inmate named Wang Xinhua who slept next to her.
Wang once kicked Ms. Zhao from the bed to the ground, saying that Ms. Zhao was practicing Falun Gong exercises. The kick from Wang injured the right side of Ms. Zhao's rib, causing her to have breathing difficulties and pain whenever she ate. However, the police sided with Wang after learning of the incident.
Bullied and Humiliated
Apart from torturing Ms. Zhao, the inmates also abused and humiliated her.
There was an inmate named Li Huirong who was rich and powerful outside of prison and wielded some influence in the prison. After Ms. Zhao was assigned to sleep next to Li, several inmates covered Ms. Zhao up in a blanket when she woke up the next morning and started beating her. Li also instructed two inmates to keep an eye on Ms. Zhao at all times, including when she went to the toilet.
To protest against Li's abuse, Ms. Zhao went on a hunger strike for five days and requested to meet a prison guard. Li was successful the first time she blocked Ms. Zhao from meeting a guard. However, Li was left dumbfounded when Ms. Zhao easily shook off the inmates the next time they tried to keep her from seeing a prison guard.
“Li said to everyone, 'How does she still have so much strength when she didn't eat or drink for so long?'” Ms. Zhao recalled Li's words. “Since then, Li toned down a little [in her abuse].”
The prison also motivated the inmates to further persecute Falun Gong practitioners by offering reductions to their sentences if they abused practitioners. Other than sleep deprivation, Ms. Zhao had also been punished by standing or squatting for extended periods of time and had her personal daily necessities stolen by inmates.
A 'Legal Advice' Seminar
Inmate Wang once reported Ms. Zhao to the prison chiefs saying that Ms. Zhao was doing the exercises. Ms. Zhao then told the chiefs that Wang hit her but they chose to punish Ms. Zhao instead by sending her to another prison cell to stay for half a month. They said that they would not try to "transform" her and told her not to do any illegal things.
It was at the other cell that Ms. Zhao learned that the prison has many rooms used specifically for transforming practitioners; each room was filled with one practitioner and several inmates who were tasked to transform the practitioners.
“I was walking along the corridor to the toilet when I saw every window of a room had been pasted with paper. You could not see anything from outside. When I turned my head, someone shouted that I had seen the practitioners,” Ms. Zhao recalled.
In August 2005, Ms. Zhao heard that some officials from Beijing had come to the prison for a seminar, and the prison had deceived many practitioners to attend by telling them the seminar is on giving legal advice. In actuality, the seminar was to defame Falun Gong.
Upon learning the truth, the practitioners started shouting “Falun Dafa is good” at the seminar and some even ran out of the room to shout. The shoutings were soon heard by Ms. Zhao, who was in her cell.
Ms. Zhao decided to help her fellow practitioners by shouting too, while the inmates in her room, who already knew that Falun Gong is good, kept a lookout for the guards, ensuring her safety. However, the practitioners at the seminar were not as fortunate.
“I heard later that the prison chief instructed the police to hit the practitioners and lock them up in solitary confinement rooms,” Ms. Zhao said.
Blatant Disregard for Human Life
Ms. Zhao witnessed firsthand in the prison how the guards disregard practitioners' lives.
Ms. Zhao recalled that there was a practitioner who was handcuffed to the bed, causing her blood pressure to rise to about 240–260 mmHg. One day, Ms. Zhao realized that something is amiss and found the practitioner lying on the restroom floor.
“At that moment, a few inmates came and treated the dying practitioner roughly. They shooed me away,” Ms. Zhao said. “She died shortly after, and I cried when I heard about it. But when a warden saw me crying, he kicked me.”
Released from Prison
Ms. Zhao was finally released on August 29, 2007, after serving her five-year term.
Before her release, the guards conducted a body search and requested that she wear the inmate uniform as she walked out of the prison. She refused.
“When I left the prison, I shouted “Falun Dafa is good” one last time,” Ms. Zhao recalled.
Ms. Zhao finally left the prison in the afternoon with officers from the 610 Office, police station, and community committee who were tasked to pick her up, even though her siblings had already arrived in the morning to take her home.
Ms. Zhao said she felt relaxed when walking out of the prison, adding that she even told the officers of the torture that she experienced in the prison, as well as the persecution of Falun Gong.
“In the end, an officer from the community committee said, 'Isn't this just an issue on one's belief and faith?'” Ms. Zhao recalled the officer's words.
Everyone went their separate ways later and no one ever came looking for Ms. Zhao again.
It was later that Ms. Zhao learned that her family had mailed 300 yuan every month to her for more than a year, but she had only received it about three times before the money stopped coming.
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