Mr. He Lifang, a resident in Qingdao City, Shandong Province, died in custody on July 2, 2019, two months after his last arrest for refusing to renounce his faith in Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a meditation system based on the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. Since the Chinese Communist Party began to suppress the practice in July 1999, a large number of practitioners have been detained, tortured, or even had their organs harvested for their belief.
Mr. He's family noticed a sewn-up incision on his chest and an open incision on his back. The police first claimed the incisions were a result of an autopsy before changing their story to say that a medical examiner would come shortly. No coroner ever showed up.
Mr. He's loved ones suspect that his organs may have been harvested either while he was still alive or shortly after his death, and that's the real reason for the incisions. They also suspect psychiatric abuse as he lost his speech and became unresponsive within just 17 days of his detention.
Untimely Death Caps Years of Ordeals
Mr. He's passing marked an end to his years of suffering for his belief. The 45-year-old man was repeatedly arrested and tortured – he was once beaten by 17 inmates while in detention. His ID was cancelled, and he was forced to stay away from home for 17 years to avoid further arrest.
The police deceived Mr. He into visiting them in the name of issuing him an ID card on May 5, 2019. He was arrested upon arrival and later subjected to force-feeding and possibly psychiatric abuse. His health declined and he was rushed to a hospital on June 30.
Over 200 police officers were dispatched between June 30 and July 3 to block local Falun Gong practitioners and Mr. He's family members from getting close to the hospital.
Mr. He died on July 2, but his family wasn't notified until the following day. They were pressured into agreeing to have his body cremated that same day. Over 30 officials plus four police vans were present to monitor the cremation process.
Forced to Stay Away from Home for 17 Years
Mr. He was a resident of Beian Community in Jimo District, Qingdao City. Because of practising Falun Gong, he was harassed and detained by Beian police numerous times. His business also suffered; he and his family were discriminated against and taunted for his belief.
“My business was very successful when the persecution started in 1999. But because of the slanderous propaganda, many of my clients were misled and treated me like an enemy. One neighbour, who used to be friendly, swore at me and my family. Even children sometimes cursed at us because they too had been influenced by the slanderous propaganda,” wrote Mr. He in a criminal complaint filed against former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Jiang Zemin for initiating the persecution of Falun Gong.
One time in 2001, he was beaten by 17 inmates at Jimo Detention Centre and fell into a coma. The diagnosis indicated his brain had been deprived of both blood and oxygen. The doctors also found he suffered from multiple organ failures and said he was not worth rescuing.
Through the practice of Falun Gong, however, Mr. He survived upon being released. He fled his home when learning of the police's plan to arrest him again. He spent the next 17 years going from place to place.
Officials from Jimo Political and Legal Affairs Committee (PLAC), Jimo 610 Office, and Beian Police Station cancelled his residence registration (hukou) and suspended his ID card, leaving him unable to land a decent full-time job, which in China requires an ID.
Life-threatening Condition 17 Days after Latest Arrest
Because Mr. He described in detail his suffering for practising Falun Gong, the 610 Office considered him a key target to be persecuted.
Having been away from home for so long, Mr. He really missed his ageing parents. He made a trip back home in early 2019, only to be stopped by a traffic police officer who demanded to see his ID. He was fined 2,000 yuan for not carrying an ID card with him. The fine was huge for Mr. He, who had been wandering around and unable to find a decent job without an ID. He decided to apply for a new ID.
He reached out to Beian Police Station, and an officer asked him to come over to get an ID.
Mr. He showed up at Beian Police Station on May 5, 2019, only to be arrested and sent to Pudong Detention Centre. An arrest warrant was issued on May 14 and his case was forwarded to the Jimo Court on May 23. As he went on a hunger strike in protest, the detention centre guards force-fed him and beat him, leaving him covered with injuries all over his body. He became incontinent and his life was in danger.
Mr. He's attorney wasn't allowed to visit him until May 22, 2019. The lawyer noticed that Mr. He was unable to walk and that he was carried out on a stretcher. He wore a face mask, with his entire body wrapped in a heavy quilt. He had no response when the lawyer talked with him.
It was warm in May and Mr. He's family, who visited him together with his lawyer, suspected that the heavy quilt and face mask were to cover his injuries from torture and that his loss of speech and unresponsiveness may have been the result of psychiatric abuse.
Request for Release Denied
The lawyer returned to the detention centre on June 5, but he was denied a meeting with his client the whole morning. He refused to leave and was finally allowed to see Mr. He in the afternoon.
Mr. He was again carried out on a stretcher. He was still unresponsive.
Mr. He’s parents, already in their 80s, went to Jimo Appealing Office and Beian Police Station to request his release. They were not even allowed to go inside, much less see anyone in charge of their son's case.
The elderly couple and their daughter went to Jimo Police Department and Jimo 610 Office on June 13 to seek Mr. He's release. They managed to go inside, but were asked to wait in a meeting room.
When no one in the police department came out to talk to them, the trio went to Beian Police Station in the afternoon. Mr. He’s sister cried and asked for help, saying that her brother could die at any moment. The police threatened to detain her, and they relented when her parents started crying too. The three family members were then driven out of the building.
The lawyer once wrote to prosecutor Li Xia from Jimo Procuratorate, suggesting to release Mr. He on bail given his poor health. Li refused, citing Mr. He’s hunger strike.
When the lawyer came to the detention centre on June 24 to request a third meeting with his client, a guard initially agreed. Upon confirming with a deputy director surnamed Li, the guard denied the request, citing Mr. He’s inability to speak.
Unresponsive But Forced to Stand Trial
A hearing was held at Pudong Detention Centre on June 25, even though Mr. He was unfit to stand trial. Several bailiffs carried him to the courtroom and pushed him into a chair, while one of them kept wiping fluid that kept running out from his nose.
During the entire trial, Mr. He was numb and did not have any reaction. His elderly mother requested medical treatment for her son but was ignored.
The evidence listed by prosecutor Li included Mr. He’s putting up banners about Falun Gong in 2001, the criminal complaint he filed against Jiang, and his staying away from home. The lawyer refuted them one by one and questioned testimony by witnesses. He reiterated the freedom of belief allowed by the Chinese Constitution and requested that Mr. He be released unconditionally.
According to insiders, Judge Gao Fei kept receiving instructions from two senior officials who watched a live video of the trial from another room. One plainclothes officer was videotaping Mr. He’s family the entire time, while dozens of police officers were on guard inside and outside the detention centre.
Mr. He’s family phoned Gao three days later, worrying that Mr. He had been drugged and requested bail due to his medical condition. Gao simply asked them to wait for the trial result.
Family Heartbroken to See Mr. He's Continued Suffering at Hospital
Mr. He was sent from Pudong Detention Centre in Jimo District to Chengyang Third Hospital on June 30. Over 20 police vans were dispatched and staff members from Bei’an Neighborhood Committee also came to guard him. Mr. He’s family, however, was not notified until the morning on the following day by an officer surnamed Sun from the detention centre.
Located more than 30 kilometres (or 20 miles) from the detention centre, Chengyang Third Hospital is a low-quality township-level hospital, which was reported to have sold adulterated drugs and infected patients with hepatitis B during haemodialysis. Mr. He’s family members were confused why dozens of police vans would escort him to this place while skipping other closer, more reputable hospitals.
Their concerns deepened after they arrived at the hospital. Lying in bed with tubes and wires all over his body, Mr. He showed no response. One doctor said Mr. He’s lungs had been damaged during force-feeding in the detention centre.
His sister and brother-in-law witnessed that, when a doctor inserted a tube into Mr. He’s mouth, Mr. He’s entire body shook in pain with every insertion. It was so severe that it was almost like he was being shocked with electricity.
Mr. He’s sister cried so badly over the scene that she lost her voice. An officer came over to prevent them from getting closer. As Mr. He’s brother-in-law offered to take Mr. He back home for recovery, officers from Beian Police Station said no.
Over 200 Police Officers Dispatched and Family Members Driven Away
A guard from Pudong Detention Center told Mr. He’s parents on the evening of July 1 to go back home and apply for bail for their son. The elderly couple obliged, but they soon returned to the hospital after realizing that their helpless son was in danger. The police did not allow them to get closer.
Mr. He's parents' cell phones were searched to see if they had made any audio or video recordings. They were then driven out of the hospital.
Jimo 610 Office brought in more police forces that night (July 1). Mr. He's family members and practitioners who knew about this were closely watched. “Whoever gets involved in this will be arrested,” threatened an officer. Police paid special attention to Mr. He’s brother-in-law and an officer followed him wherever he went. Staff members from the village Party Committees were assigned to watch other family members of Mr. He.
On the morning of July 2, guards from Pudong Detention Centre left and officers from Beian Police Station took over. Upon arrival, the police drove out all of the family members who had gathered outside the hospital. Later that day, there was not even a single family member close by, while police officers were on guard throughout the hospital.
It was estimated about 200 police officers and over 20 police vans were dispatched between June 30 and July 3. Coming from Jimo District Police Department and subordinate police stations, these officers brought many handcuffs and were ready to make arrests at any moment. An officer surnamed Yao from Beian Neighbourhood Committee specifically warned Falun Gong practitioners to stay away from this case.
Open Cuts in Front and Back of Body
Mr. He's family believes he died between the afternoon and evening of July 2, though they were not notified until 10 a.m. on July 3. They were not allowed to see Mr. He's body at the hospital.
That afternoon, Mr. He’s family went to Beian Mortuary to see his body, but the director of Beian Police Station said no. After their repeated, strong requests, they were told to wait at the Beian Appeals Centre. Later on, the village CCP Secretary also made such a request. Two hours later, the family was allowed to see the body.
Mr. He's body spotted open cuts both in the front and the back, with the one on the chest already stitched. Mr. He’s face appeared in pain, with his mouth wide open. There was blood in his nose and mouth, and blood also seeped between the teeth. There were wounds all over, especially his legs and arms, which had turned purplish- black with needle holes. In addition, there were blisters on his neck.
When the family asked why the body had surgical incisions, an officer said they were the result of an autopsy. He then said an autopsy was to be conducted by a forensic doctor from Qingdao City. But no doctor ever showed up.
Beian police arranged the cremation and monitored the entire process on July 3. Over 30 officials, plus armed police officers and plainclothes police officers, guarded both inside and outside the mortuary. Even after the cremation, four police vans were on patrol in the village.
On the day when the ashes were buried on July 4, officers from Beian Police Station waited at the site with handcuffs and threatened to arrest Falun Gong practitioners who dared to attend the burial ceremony.
Mr. He’s family wanted to hold the detention centre liable for his death, but the detention centre officials shirked responsibility by saying that they had been injecting nutrients into Mr. He after he went on a hunger strike. Mr. He's fellow villagers dismissed this. “It’s hard to imagine such a healthy, agile man could leave us like this less than two months of detention,” said one resident.
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