Ms. Zhao Chunyan's family had to call an ambulance to pick her up when she was released from prison on July 16, 2018. She had lost more than a third of her body weight and wasn't able to walk. The Jixi City resident died on July 28, at the age of 65.
Ms. Zhao's death is a tragic end to the years of relentless abuse she suffered for refusing to renounce Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline being persecuted by the Chinese communist regime. She had been repeatedly arrested for her faith and served two terms of forced labour for a total of almost four years between 2000 and 2011. She was last arrested on July 11, 2013 and sentenced to 5 years in prison three months later without any due process. A local judge simply read aloud the verdict against her in the local detention centre.
|Ms. Zhao before her last arrest|
Ms. Zhao was admitted to Heilongjiang Province Women's Prison in November 2013. She and other imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners were often forced to stomp on or sit on paper with the founder of Falun Gong's name written on it. The inmates sometimes even stuck the paper into her pants.
Inmate Du Xiaoxia forced Ms. Zhao to sit motionless on a small bench from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day for more than two months in a row. The guards not only didn't stop Du, but also encouraged her and other inmates to continue their abuse of Ms. Zhao by promising term reductions.
|Ms. Zhao after her release from prison, severely emaciated and missing a front tooth that was knocked out while being force-fed unknown drugs|
Ms. Zhao told her family, “On February 6, 2014, inmate Tiao Yanru instigated another inmate, named Wang Ning, to beat me with clothes hangers. Wang hit me so hard that she broke two hangers. She also brushed my face with a plastic brush. My face became extremely swollen. The next day, Tian beat me with a cardboard tube repeatedly, saying that the tube wouldn't leave any external injuries, as would hangers or brushes. She also didn't allow me to sleep or use the restroom. I ran to the restroom at one point, but was dragged back. I had to urinate in my pants.”
According to insiders, Ms. Zhao was deprived of sleep for 20 straight days, starting on February 6, 2014. She became extremely disoriented and was tricked into signing her name on a statement to give up her belief. After she became clearheaded again, she wrote a solemn statement on March 6, 2014 to nullify her earlier statement. Inmate Tian refused to take her solemn statement and questioned where she got the pen and paper to write her new statement. Ms. Zhao then re-wrote her statement on a wall. The prison guards accused her of staining the wall and ordered inmates to torture her even more.
Ms. Zhao recounted what happened to her, “In March 2014, Wang Ning grabbed me by the hair and poured one basin after another of cold water on my head. It was still very cold in March. My sweater was soaking wet and I couldn't stop shivering. Yet she didn't allow me to change and ordered me to stand there motionless. She and other inmates often dragged me to a room without surveillance cameras. They'd then all beat me together. I don't even remember how many times I have been beaten.”
Ms. Zhao also recalled how she was given unknown drugs that wrecked havoc on her health, “They said I was sick and needed to take medicine. They pried open my mouth and knocked out one of my teeth. Guard Xiao Shufen (badge number 230355) kept close watch on me every day. She made sure the drugs were force-fed into my mouth twice every day. I had diarrhea every time after being given the drug. Before I knew it, I found myself unable to keep any thing down. Tian Yanru accused me of refusing to eat food. I said it was all their torture of me that caused so much damage to my health.”
Ms. Zhao kept throwing up and became weaker and weaker. She was eventually sent for a check up in October 2016 and was diagnosed with a liver cyst. She had a surgery to remove the cyst.
Her family had tried to visit her many times since her imprisonment, but they were always turned away. In late October 2016, though, her family received a urgent notice asking them to rush to Harbin City Zhongxin Hospital. They went and saw Ms. Zhao unable to eat or walk. She had trouble breathing and talking.
Wang Shanshan, then head of Prison Ward Nine where Ms. Zhao was imprisoned, later texted Ms. Zhao's son multiple times asking for money to cover his mother's medical expenses. The young man gave Wang and her fellow guard, Zhu Xueming, cash during each subsequent visit. The two guards didn't release Ms. Zhao as promised, even after her son paid a total of 26,000 yuan to them. They then demanded 260 yuan per day to cover Ms. Zhao's caregivers or else her family had to care for her. Ms. Zhao's son said he'd care for his mother, but the two guards changed their minds and turned him down.
Ms. Zhao remained imprisoned until her term expired. Guards Wang and Xue demanded 60,000 yuan in exchange for her release, but her family firmly refused to pay. Wang and Xue then withheld the 5,000 yuan Ms. Zhao still had in her commissary account.
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