Simply for refusing to give up her belief in Falun Gong, Ms. Li Yushu, a former education official, was arrested on May 19th, 2002 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Once a healthy woman, she looked like a frail old lady when she was released this May. Three months after she returned home, she still could not manage her daily life because of injuries sustained in prison.
“There were no basic rights in the prison. Guards and inmates slandered Falun Gong and tortured practitioners at will,” Ms. Li reflected on her days in Heilongjiang Women's Prison.
Having no other means to appeal her mistreatment, Ms. Li and other practitioners went on hunger strikes as a means of peaceful protest. However, they were punished with force-feeding, a torture method intended to inflict harm on hunger-strikers.
Ms. Li was force-fed three times every day from 2004 to 2014. The day before release, she was given a final round of force-feeding. Both she and her family suspected that the concoction contained unknown drugs, as she became disoriented and still suffered from complications months after her release.
Ms. Li recalls that every moment of the force-feeding felt like a battle of life and death. Fortunately, she made it through and finally has the chance to tell the world of the horrors she endured at the hands of prison guards, who were taking commands from above.
“I am fortunate to have survived 12 years of abuse. Many of the imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners went insane or even died well before their release dates. Some were sent home earlier, only to die shortly afterwards,” said Ms. Li.
In this two-part series, Ms. Li first details some of the most excruciating force-feeding sessions she endured. She follows up in Part 2 with other other forms of torture she experienced accompanying the force-feeding.
Bloodied Feeding Tube (August 2004)
In March 2004, guards placed Falun Gong practitioners Ms. Zhang Shuzhe and Ms. Ding Yu in solitary confinement. Other practitioners told the guards that we had committed no crime and were a group of kindhearted people following the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. They asked the guards to release practitioners from solitary confinement, to no avail.
When the practitioners in solitary confinement held a hunger strike, they were joined by other practitioners imprisoned in the general population.
I started my hunger strike on August 2nd 2004. The guards cuffed our arms behind our backs and forced us to stand between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. At night, we remained cuffed to the ground with our arms behind us. We were cursed, beaten, and sometimes lifted off the ground by our handcuffs.
Guards ordered inmate Shang Xiaomei to force-feed me. The tubes she took out of my stomach often dripped with blood. She told me to stop my hunger strike or my stomach lining would be completely destroyed.
However, the purpose of my hunger strike was to have the Communist regime stop the persecution. After rounds and rounds of force-feeding, my nostrils, oesophagus, and trachea were all bruised. Inmates often took fifteen minutes to insert the tube fully, because it became harder as my injuries mounted.
On December 3rd, Zheng Jie, the division head, uncuffed me and confined me in isolation. Song Libo and two other inmates were assigned to monitor me and try to force me to give up my hunger strike. I refused. Song threatened, “Then you're not going to see the end of it.” Indeed, the force-feeding lasted the next ten years, three rounds a day.
After a week of solitary confinement, the guards figured that I was not going to change my mind. They took me to the No. 9 Ward.
Life-Threatening Force-Feeding into Trachea (December 2004)
At the time, the No. 9 Ward was notorious for its brutality and its high “transformation rate” of coercing practitioners to renounce their beliefs. Practitioners in other wards who resisted the brainwashing were transferred here.
Guard Jia Wenjun was put in charge of the transformation division. Every guard in the No. 9 Ward was involved in persecuting Falun Gong practitioners.
Among the inmates, Wu Xiangfen, serving a sentence for fraud, was in her late twenties. Wu, known for her ruthlessness and guile, was the fiercest in tormenting practitioners.
On December 10th, 2014, Jia Wenjun, the division head, and four inmates took me to a vacant room, where the windows and door were covered with paper. Wu verbally abused me for three days before starting the barbaric force-feeding.
For several days, I was force-fed for one to two hours. Wu sat on top of me and pulled my hair while another inmate, Li Mingying, pinched my nose so that I couldn't breathe. A third inmate surnamed Liu pushed the plastic feeding bottle into my throat, such that food could easily enter my trachea and suffocate me.
On one occasion, Wu poked a few holes in the plastic bottle and filled it up with liquefied food. To prevent vomiting, she covered my mouth with a towel. I couldn't breathe. To prevent suffocation from liquid entering my windpipe, I had to tilt my head. However, they held my head in place and continued covering my mouth. Several times I had to turn my body to avoid being suffocated.
My movements angered Wu. She yelled, “Put more salt in it next time!” Indeed, they put over a pound of salt in my food on several occasions. After every two-hour force-feeding session, I was out of breath. My face and nose were bruised, bleeding, and misshapen.
In the end, an inmate named Zheng Dongmei replaced the bottle with a tube. Wu sat on top of me and inserted the tube into my trachea instead of my oesophagus. I tried to tell them that I couldn't breathe. Zheng snapped, “Don't you want to die?” Meanwhile, she prepared a full dose of milk and and started injecting it into my lungs. I tried to shift to a different position, but Wu held me down tightly. It felt like my death was imminent.
The full dose was injected into my windpipe. I managed to throw up all of the milk along with a mouthful of blood, which saved my life. The next two days, they again inserted the tube into my trachea, which nearly killed me.
Inmates Dedicated to Force-feeding (2005)
To apply more pressure on practitioners to renounce their beliefs, officials scoured the entire prison to find inmates known for ruthlessness. They settled on Xiang Shufen and Shan Yuqin.
Shan was in her fifties. She formerly served in the army and was experienced in monitoring practitioners. She often beat me viciously. One day, she was particularly brutal and stomped on my arms and legs, trying to break them. I couldn't extend my injured limbs or walk afterwards.
A third inmate, Wang Xinhua, was assigned to abuse me. One morning, Wang held me down on a bed and attacked my face with a broom. She did this for an hour until the bristles came undone. My swollen face bled all over.
Wang was unconcerned about my survival when carrying out barbaric force-feeding. One day in December, she brought a bag of salt and used half of it in my food. She dumped the other half in liquid and poured the mixture on me, soaking my clothes, underwear, and quilt. While I changed clothes, she opened the window to let the icy winter air in.
When force-feeding, the inmates resorted to using a uterine dilator to force my mouth open. Shan sat on top of me, holding my arms. Others held down my head and feet. Wang pried my mouth open with a spoon, while Shang extended the dilator to its widest position. They kept my mouth open like this for over an hour. Every second of it was excruciating.
With my mouth forcibly stretched to its widest, the inmates used a spoon and a syringe to place food deep into my mouth, where the liquefied mixture could easily enter my windpipe. On one occasion, it did. I was not sure how I managed to expel it all. Shan finally let go of me, saying it was too dangerous. Wang and Shang told other inmates to continue holding me down, no matter how hard I cried. I choked on many occasions. They couldn't care less for my life.
My mouth was injured by the dilator and the spoon. I had no energy left to resist the abuse. I was in terribly poor condition. Besides torturing me during force-feeding, they also tied my arms back, with my legs tied to a stool. Deprived of sleep, I fell over with the stool several times. For days, Shan also tied my hands to a stool and forced me to sit like that for 14-15 hours at a time.
Yuan Anfen, a convicted murderer, was strong and ruthless. One evening, I was sitting when Yuan ran over and pushed me to the ground. She then stomped on my face.
I shouted “Falun Gong is good!” She stuffed a pair of underwear in my mouth and continued to stomp on my face with both feet. Three or four lumps appeared on my head. She hit the back of my hand with a brush handle, making it swell to the size of a steamed bun.
I had in my mind only Falun Gong teachings. I knew I was innocent. To force me to listen to them, the inmates started adding garlic when force-feeding me. It was too spicy to bear.
One day, Zhao Yingling, the head of the hospital ward, called Xiang Shufen to her office and gave orders that if I were found meditating, all the inmates assigned to watch me would have credits deducted, which had the potential to extend their term. Prison officials used these credits to motivate inmates to carry out these abuses. As a result, they started to give up their own sleep to torture me around the clock.
In the end, they could not go on without sleeping. Xiang gave in and said, “Li, you can sleep now. We won't add garlic to your food anymore.” They really did stop adding garlic. However, they still did not allow me to talk to other practitioners.
I did not yield. I was determined to break through this constraint. I routinely went to sit in fellow practitioners' beds in other cells. The guards would often drag me back to my cell.
One day, Yuan Anfen pushed me to the ground, injuring my head and femur. The pain lasted for over a year, during which period I could not sit. On the second day of the Chinese New Year, I went to visit practitioners in other cells. Xiang pushed me back, pulled on my hair, and rammed my head against the radiator pipes a dozen times. My head was covered with lumps.
One morning, I was meditating. He Yingjie, an inmate who slept across from me, walked over, grabbed my left thumb, and abruptly snapped it backward. The thumb fractured immediately with a cracking sound. I continued to hold my palms up in the lotus position. She was stunned, and said after a few moments of silence, “When someone's not afraid of death, there's nothing we can do.”
Years of Brutal Force-feeding Left Me Severely Damaged
As I maintained my hunger strike through these years, the force-feeding lasted just as long. One day in 2013, an inmate named Gu Yaru was inserting the tube through my nostrils. Unable to get the tube inserted after several attempts, she grew angry and impatient. The tube became kinked and was stuck in my nostrils.
It was excruciating when she tried to push the kinked tube forward. Food could not go through, either. The tube couldn't even be pulled out. In the end, Gu used both hands to pull on the tube and finally got it out. She then started reinserting it into my nostrils while striking my head.
Years of force-feeding like this caused tremendous damage to my health. One month after my release this May, there are still visible bruises on my body. These are only the external injuries; most of the injuries were inside my nostrils, windpipe, oesophagus, and stomach.
(Continued in Part 2)
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