By all accounts, Yinchuan Prison appears well-kept: the roads are swept clean, and cells are immaculate, with inmates' bedding and personal belongings on neat display. The whole facility is spotless and always ready to welcome government inspectors.
Underneath the manicured appearance, however, lies the same brutality carried out everywhere in China's prison system: the most violent criminals, including murderers and rapists, are given incentives to physically and sexually assault a group of prisoners of conscience–Falun Gong practitioners whose only “crime” is to expose the Communist regime's persecution of the peaceful self-cultivation system.
Though the prison managed to drive their worst offenders to commit horrendous crimes against the practitioners, it has failed to dismantle the latter group's moral standards. Ma Zhiwu, a 42-year-old man imprisoned there for three and half years, typifies the practitioners' unwavering faith in Falun Gong.
Prior to his latest arrest in September 2010 that landed him in Yinchuan Prison, Mr. Ma already spent eight years being tortured in prison for his belief in Falun Gong from late 1999 to mid-2008, during which time his daughter was born and had to be raised along by his wife.
To weaken Mr. Ma's willpower, guards at Yinchuan Prison tried everything they could think of to make him suffer:
“Two months after I was transferred to the intensified reformation unit, inmate Yan Wei started sexually assaulting me. He would often grab my penis and twist it hard. The sharp pain made me sweat. Zhu Weiliang and two other murderers all had sexual perversions. Every day they abused me verbally and physically in the most humiliating ways.
“I was also forced to sit still on a small stool for extended periods of time, all the while being beaten and deprived of sleep. I developed sores on my buttocks, which later oozed blood and pus. I felt as if I would pass out and die at any moment.”
Above is part of Mr. Ma's recollection of what he went through in the prison. He managed to survive the violence with his faith in Falun Gong untouched, and he shares some of his ordeals below. He wants everyone to see how the Chinese Communist Party is trying, albeit fruitlessly, to turn good people like Falun Gong practitioners into bad.
Arrest and Interrogation with Torture
Police arrested Mr. Ma on September 12th, 2010 when he was riding in a car with four other practitioners in Yanchi County. Officers seized the vehicle and took him to Huamachi Police Station, where they tortured him with a Tiger Bench1 in an attempt to extract information about sources of Falun Gong literature in the car, as well as the four practitioners who escaped.
County-level officers arrived the next day and took turns abusing him and depriving him of sleep: whenever Mr. Ma closed his eyes, they poured water over him, yelled at him, and beat him.
Despite four days of torture, Mr. Ma did not give up any information. “The police discussed among themselves and mentioned releasing me since they had no evidence. But the Ningxia 610 Office (an organisation of special agents just for persecuting Falun Gong), which had received information from the local police, refused to release me,” wrote Mr. Ma.
“Liu Zhongbin, head of the county's Domestic Security Division, took me to the Yanchi Detention Centre on September 15th. He and an officer from the Ningxia 610 Office came to see me.”
“If you tell me where the materials came from and provide information about the other four practitioners, you will be free,” said the 610 Office agent. Seeing that Mr. Ma was unwilling to talk, Liu threatened to torture him with a soldering iron.
Mr. Ma's arrest warrant was approved a month later. To protest the illegal arrest and detention, Mr. Ma went on a hunger strike for over 40 days. Guards chained his feet and force-fed him. “Four or five people held me down on a bed or in a chair with my hands cuffed and my feet chained. It was very painful. They force-fed me like this every day.”
Officials who interrogated Mr. Ma once told him that he might be released due to insufficient evidence. “But the Ningxia Province 610 Office did not want to give up. They insisted on sentencing me to prison,” wrote Mr. Ma.
Predetermined Sentence Handed Down after Several Secret Trials
Yanchi County Court held a secret trial in February 2011 without notifying Mr. Ma's family. The prosecutor played several Falun Gong-related DVDs. An attorney appointed by the court to represent Mr. Ma asserted that there was no evidence showing these DVDs belonged to Mr. Ma. The court dismissed the charges.
“But the Ningxia Province 610 Office continued to press the Yanchi Court, and another trial was scheduled for early March.“ Mr. Ma overheard that he would be sentenced regardless of evidence, because the order came from the Political and Legal Affairs Committee—an organ that oversaw the 610 Office. “I also heard that the prison term was already predetermined—3.5 years.”
The second trial was held on March 1st with the same court officers and prosecutor, again with no observers. Mr. Ma protested the secrecy of the trial and refused to answer any questions. His attorney again emphasised the lack of evidence.
The trial was very short, and Mr. Ma refused to sign the court record. A bailiff signed the record instead, and a written judgment arrived at the detention centre several days later—Mr. Ma was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, just as he had heard before the trial.
Mr. Ma appealed to the Wuzhong City Intermediate Court, which held another secret trial. “My wife filled out the paperwork for my defence. But court staff asked her to come over several days before the trial and took away the paper without her noticing, which stopped her from hiring a defence attorney.”
The sentence was upheld, and Mr. Ma was sent to Yinchuan Prison on June 28th, 2011. Lamenting the corrupt judicial system, Mr. Ma wrote, “The 610 Office took a leading role in persecuting practitioners through the police, detention centres, and the court system.”
Inmates Rewarded for Abusing Practitioners
Mr. Ma was transferred to an intensified "transformation" [forcibly renounce Falun Gong] unit in the prison, where inmates were assigned to watch him around the clock and prevent him from interacting with anyone. Even while he slept, inmates were assigned to sit next to him and watch him for two hours per shift. They followed him wherever he went, including the toilet.
“The Communist Party propaganda demonised Falun Gong practitioners, and everyone got used to treating us this way,” wrote Mr. Ma.
This intensified unit was created specifically to target practitioners by order of the 610 Office. “Officer Lu Wei and Zhao Li transferred the most violent and depraved inmates to this division to abuse practitioners. They were murderers, drug addicts, drug dealers, and rapists.
“By brainwashing other prisoners and stirring up their hatred towards practitioners, officers urged them to treat practitioners as badly as they could.” Anyone who followed the orders closely would be awarded a three-month deduction from their prison terms.
Confined to a “Small Stool” and Deprived of Sleep
Armed guards put Mr. Ma in solitary confinement in Cell No. 6 on September 23rd, 2011. “Three ceiling lights were on 24 hours a day, with the window curtains always down and two security cameras covering the entire cell,” recalled Mr. Ma.
“I was forced to sit still on a 6-inch-tall plastic stool for about 20 hours a day. Six inmates took turns watching me, two per shift. Every time I moved even a little, blinked, or asked for water or to use the toilet, they beat me and swore at me. Even during the three or four hours of sleep I was allowed, inmates kicked the bed repeatedly from time to time to wake me up.”
Despite its innocuous name, this “small stool” is used as a torture device and often causes the flesh on the victim's buttocks to fester after prolonged use.
After several days, Mr. Ma could not stay awake any longer. To keep him from closing his eyes, inmates punched and kicked him, poured cold water on him (including on winter days), stabbed him with needles (previously used to poke AIDS patients, inmates claimed), burned him with cigarettes, rubbed irritants in his eyes, hit his face and eyes with dirty flyswatters, and pinched him all over.
Within a month, he was often in a trance, barely able to urinate, and had pain in his limbs, waist, and back.
Intensified Brainwashing, Physical Abuse, and Sexual Assault
Seeing Mr. Ma's unwillingness to give in, inmates stepped up the abuse. They forced him to read propaganda and watch videos demonising Falun Gong all day long without a break. When he protested the defamatory material, inmates beat him again.
“Inmate Ma Zhixing also hit my head, face, hands, and feet every day for a long time with a rubber hammer. My fingers and hands were covered with bruises. On winter days, the inmates opened the door and windows during the night to freeze me. Very soon, my entire body went numb.
“After several months, walnut-sized bumps began to appear on my bottom, followed by pus and blood. I was very weak and had high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, and dizziness. It was as if I would faint when I moved even a bit. Despite the hardship, I remembered that suicide was against Falun Gong principles, so I survived.”
The mistreatment of Mr. Ma went even further. “For example, inmates added a large amount of salt to my food, so I couldn't swallow it. When meat was occasionally provided, inmates would take the meat in my bowl and drop it in the toilet in front me. When I asked them why or told them to stop, they beat and swore at me.” Mr. Ma said he was also sexually assaulted by inmates.
Guards Supervised and Hid Abuses
Such physical and mental abuse lasted for more than a year but was rarely known to the outside, because only the six inmates and guards directly assigned were allowed in Cell No. 6, where Mr. Ma was placed in solitary confinement.
Anyone who told others about what happened in Cell No. 6 would be moved to other divisions and punished—inmates with term extensions and officials with bonus deductions.
The abuse was supervised and monitored by prison officials. “Whenever I moved even a little when sitting on the stool, a voice from the speaker would say, 'Sit up!' The inmates would then rush over, beat me, and order me to sit straight.
“Even though the cell was under video surveillance around the clock and the recording would be kept for three years, nobody paid attention to what was happening to me.”
Inmates abused practitioners ruthlessly, in part because the 610 Office gave direct orders to do so. In addition, “not only did inmates lie about the torture, but prison officials and administrators also tried to cover it up,” wrote Mr. Ma.
On the Brink of Death
By April 2012, Mr. Ma had been in solitary confinement for six months.
“Because I didn't give in, Lu Wei and other officials tortured me even harder. Inmates sometimes punched or kicked my lower back and legs. Several months later, my lower back and kidneys were damaged. I couldn't stand up, and there was blood in my urine. My ribs hurt. My legs were swollen and seriously bruised.
“After all kinds of torture in the intensified unit, I was on the brink of death by February 2013. Every day I was forced to sit still on a small stool, beaten, and deprived of sleep. With restricted eating, drinking, and toilet use, the long-term lack of sleep caused dizziness and headaches. I felt as if I could faint and die at any moment. Because I sat on the stool for so long, I had sores on my bottom with blood and pus...”
Mr. Ma's pulse often exceeded 110 per minute. An “inmate doctor” (a prisoner who happened to have some medical knowledge) examined him and found many other abnormalities.
When Mr. Ma requested treatment at a hospital, a prison official refused and added, “Only dead prisoners are sent to the hospital—not one person came back alive.” Mr. Ma realized that they sent a prisoner to the hospital only when they needed a death certificate to show the family.
Finally, Mr. Ma returned home alive after his prison term expired. The Ningxia 610 Office planned to persecute him further when he left prison, but stopped short after seeing his life-threatening condition.
Lu Wei, head of the intensified unit, “transformed” many practitioners--forced them to renounce their beliefs--through brainwashing and brutality. Yinchuan Prison even invited three veteran prison officials from Beijing to train its staff in brainwashing techniques.
“Lu often talked to me, telling such and such practitioners had stopped practicing Falun Gong and asked why I still continued. I told him that Falun Gong taught practitioners to become better people and it was wrong to mistreat practitioners. But he didn't listen and continued to torture us.”
The thugs who inflicted the worst abuse on Mr. Ma were the drug addicts and rapists. “In the beginning, they waited for Lu's order to torture me. As they became more familiar with his expectations, they beat me more often and harder in exchange for benefits in the prison or term reductions.”
Choosing Not to Fight Back
Mr. Ma is six feet tall, practiced martial arts since childhood, and had years of military combat training before he started practising Falun Gong in May 1998. He could easily defeat several people in a fight.
However, he chose not to fight back despite the abuses he suffered. When other inmates were couldn't understand that, he explained that it was “because I am a Falun Gong practitioner who follows the principle of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance.
“From what I have seen, heard and suffered,” Mr. Ma reflected, “they want to turn good people into bad and make bad people even worse.”
1. "Tiger Bench": Prisoners are forced to sit on a small iron bench that is approximately 20 cm (6 inches) tall with their knees tied together. With their hands tied behind their backs or sometimes placed on their knees, they are forced to sit straight up and look straight ahead without movement for long periods of time.
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