NEW YORK - Large numbers of Chinese citizens detained for practicing Falun Gong continue to die because of brutality suffered at police stations, labor camps and prisons across China, says a new Falun Dafa Information Center report released Monday.
Drawing on both Chinese and international sources, the 46-page report, titled “Killed for Their Belief: Falun Gong Deaths from Abuse in 2009,” documents the deaths of 96 Falun Gong practitioners in 2009 (list). Given the difficulty of obtaining information from China, the actual death toll is likely significantly higher. As delayed reports emerge in the coming weeks, the confirmed death toll is also expected to climb.
"We must keep in mind that the cases in this report are only those where friends or family were brave enough and sufficiently tech savvy to report the details to us ... the true number of deaths is almost certainly much higher," says Falun Dafa Information Center Executive Director Levi Browde. “Nevertheless, the key finding of this report – that at a minimum 96 innocent people who were alive a year ago are now dead simply because of their choice of a spiritual faith – exemplifies the mortal danger facing every Falun Gong practitioner in China,”
“Additionally, the details of the cases highlight that these deaths were not the result of arbitrary abuse by wayward local officials. Rather, they are the direct outcome of intentional instructions issued by Communist Party leaders to use every means possible to eradicate a system of belief practiced by millions,” says Browde. “Those responsible—at every level of the Party apparatus—must be brought to justice.”
The victims named in the report come from all age groups, strata of society, and geographical regions. The vast majority died due to physical and psychiatric torture or by being denied their right to health while in custody. Many were killed within days, or even hours, of their detention. In one particularly jarring case, in April 2009, police abducted a 39-year-old woman from her home in Beijing. By evening, she was dead, reportedly after being severely shocks with electric batons (case of Ms. Sun Min).
In other cases, adherents were released into their family’s custody on the verge of death, only to pass away shortly thereafter. Last-minute discharges and speedy cremations are common tactics employed by the Chinese authorities to avoid responsibility for detainees dying in custody.
The 96 victims ranged from farmers to entrepreneurs, retired factory workers to bureaucrats, housewives to doctors. A large percentage had previously been illegally detained in labor or prison camps for practicing Falun Gong. As in previous years, Northeastern China was the deadliest region for adherents.
“The brutality of these extrajudicial killings, the geographical diversity of the incidents, and the impunity surrounding the deaths raise serious concerns about the wider societal implications of such violence for both victims and perpetrators,” says Browde. “There is little to guarantee that those who commit abuses again Falun Gong practitioners today will not do the same to other citizens tomorrow.”
The cases and details cited in the report were compiled from a variety of sources, including testimony of relatives or friends of the deceased, photographic evidence, and follow-up phone calls made by researchers to the relevant police or prison authorities. Photos are available particularly when practitioners were released from custody shortly before their death, in many cases, emaciated and showing marks of torture (case of Mr. Zhu Hongbing).
Several cases also draw on reporting during the year by international media, the United Nations, and human rights groups. In June 2009, the Financial Times covered the story of Mr. Fu Ziming, who was killed in custody within days of his detention for writing “Falun Dafa is Good” while visiting a popular tourist attraction (case). The death of 66-year-old Mr. Jiang Xiqing in a Chongqing labor camp received widespread attention by human rights groups after the lawyers investigating his death were themselves detained and beaten by police (case).
“Killed for Their Beliefs” also contains 16 recent cases of Falun Gong deaths due to abuse in custody as recorded by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions in his annual report published in May 2009. The report does not include cases of Falun Gong practitioners killed so that their organs could be used for transplants due to the secrecy surrounding the practice. Nevertheless, since 2006, a range of credible evidence and investigations have pointed to the existence, and likely continuation, of such forcible organ removal. Its full scale remains unknown.
In total, since 1999, the Center has recorded the deaths of 3,352 Falun Gong practitioners as a result of various forms of persecution. Given the Chinese Communist Party’s significant efforts to obstruct the investigation of Falun Gong practitioners’ untimely deaths, the actual death tolls for 2009 and overall are believed to be significantly higher than what the Center has been able to document.
Additional Key Findings
In examining the details of the sample of 96 cases from 2009, several patterns emerge:
• Fourteen practitioners died within two months of last arrest: These adherents—including individuals in their 30s and 40s—were killed within weeks, days or even hours of being taken into custody, often after being abducted from their homes, workplaces, or off the street.
• Over one-third of deaths occurred in custody: In 33 of the 96 cases, the victim died in custody of the Chinese authorities, either in a prison, labor camp, “brainwashing” center, or detention center. In several cases, family members were able to view the adherents’ body and reported visible signs of torture.
• Many died shortly after release due to torture in custody: Authorities routinely release Falun Gong practitioners when they are near death in order to avoid the potential liability of their dying in custody. The practitioner typically dies within days or months, as it is often too late for medical attention or renewed practice of the Falun Gong exercises to enable them to recuperate.
• Deprivation of the right to health leads to over 20 deaths: Given the significant health benefits that a majority of Falun Gong practitioners report experiencing, denied the right to practice in custody, many adherents experience a recurrence of old illnesses or weakening immune systems that make them vulnerable to diseases such as tuberculosis. 21 deaths in 2009 resulted from either a recurrence of old diseases or contraction of new ones when the individual was denied medical attention or forbidden to practice the Falun Gong exercises.
• Authorities consistently seek to cover-up Falun Gong deaths: The authorities frequently go to great lengths to cover-up the circumstances surrounding a Falun Gong practitioner’s death and thwart investigations into its cause, in violation of both Chinese and international law. Among the tactics recorded in 2009 were: threats to family members not to publicize their loved one’s death, coercion of relatives to approve cremation in order to destroy evidence of abuse, detention of family members pursuing information or compensation, physically “stealing” the body back from the family, and beating of lawyers trying to investigate.
• Deaths in 24 provinces, but northeast remains the deadliest: Deaths were documented in 24 of China’s 31 provinces and municipalities, including Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. However, the deadliest region by far was the northeast of the country. Deaths in the four provinces of Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Jilin and Shandong alone accounted for 42 of the 96 deaths. This follows trends from previous years and correlates to the popularity of Falun Gong in the region prior to its ban in 1999.