New York—A prison camp in Northeast China has been put under lockdown after three Falun Gong detainees died there within two weeks and evidence of the sudden deaths was posted online. In an effort to prevent additional details from being leaked, guards and prisoners alike are having their phones monitored and the victims' families are being tailed by security agents.
Torture and abuse intensified at Jiamusi Prison in Heilongjiang province in February after personnel received orders in early 2011 to increase the "transformation rate" among Falun Gong practitioners held at the camp. The orders were issued as part of a nationwide three-year Communist Party campaign to reinvigorate transformation efforts, a campaign documented last week in an essay by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) (analysis). As a result, three middle-aged male practitioners died between February 26 and March 8, 2011. Within days of the deaths, news of the incident was reported on the overseas Falun Gong Minghui.org website.
The accounts included a photo of one victim's corpse showing signs of severe beating, video footage of another victim hospitalized before his death, and the names of key prison staff involved in their torture (see photo gallery). This was despite efforts by prison personnel to cover-up the deaths by removing one practitioner's body from the hospital immediately and quickly cremating another.
In response to information on the deaths being leaked online so quickly, the prison was put under lockdown, and on March 11 agents from the Public Security and State Security Bureaus reportedly visited the prison to investigate not the cause of the deaths, but the source of the leak. Given the level of detail in accounts of the deaths, the agents apparently concluded that some non-Falun Gong prisoners or personnel at the camp must have informed family members or others of what had happened. This triggered tightened restrictions on guards, detainees, and victims' families alike.
An additional 70 Falun Gong practitioners are still being held at Jiamusi Prison. As their family members have reacted with panic to news of the deaths and demanded to see their loved ones, some reported being beaten by guards or subjected to various forms of humiliation.
"Besides the inhumaneness of these killings, what is striking about this case is how many people have been affected," says Falun Dafa Information Center executive director Levi Browde. "Prison guards, inmates, doctors, nurses, and judges have been dragged by the Communist Party into inflicting horrific pain on their fellow citizens."
"Meanwhile, dozens of other families are panicked that they will be the next ones to receive the fateful phone call that their loved one has been killed. This incident epitomizes the enormous toll that the persecution of Falun Gong is having on all levels of Chinese society."
Top-down orders lead to deaths
The deaths occurred in the context of a three-year Communist Party campaign to intensify efforts to "transform" the vast majority of Falun Gong practitioners in China. The Falun Dafa Information Center reported on the initiation of the campaign in October 2010, as it was described in official Communist Party documents posted online. On March 22, 2011, the CECC published the results of its own investigation into the dynamics and scope of the campaign (analysis).
A key feature of the campaign has been imposition of quotas to transform as many as 85 percent of people known to the authorities as practicing Falun Gong (news). It is estimated that tens of millions of people practice Falun Gong in China, despite eleven years of brutal suppression, though not all of them may be known to the authorities.
Transformation—a euphemism for forcing practitioners to renounce Falun Gong and pledge allegiance to the Communist Party—has been at the core of the anti-Falun Gong campaign since its inception. As part of the transformation process, individuals are typically subjected to physical and psychological torture (report).
In some parts of the country, the reinvigorated campaign has led to abductions and detentions in extralegal forced conversion classes. At detention facilities such as Jiamusi Prison, the campaign appears to have triggered intensified torture and killing of adherents already held there after being unfairly sentenced to long terms for their belief.
According to sources inside China, after receiving instructions to reach an 85 percent "transformation rate," Jiamusi prison personnel set up a "Strict Management Team" on February 21, 2011. Nine practitioners from different wards were taken to that section. They were not allowed to bring with them any personal belongings. Every practitioner was watched by several criminal inmates and under constant pressure to write a statement renouncing Falun Gong. By March 8, three of the nine had died.
Mr. Qin Yueming (秦月明) was the first to die. On the evening of February 26, 2011, Qin's wife received a phone call from the prison informing her that her husband had passed away. Upon arriving at the camp and following much insistence, family members were able to view Qin's body. The family found bruises and purple marks all over his body, indicating he had suffered severe beatings. They were able to take a photo and smuggle it out of China over the internet (photo). Additional sources inside China indicate that Qin died on February 25 after having a feeding tube inserted through his nose and into his lungs, instead of his stomach. The prison doctor and several guards poured milk and a salt solution down the tube. Qin whimpered all night and was dead the next morning. Qin was 47 years old when he died. He had been at the prison since 2002 after being sentenced in a sham trial to 10 years. He leaves behind a wife and two teenage daughters (see here for the full details on Qin's case).
Several days after Qin's death, at approximately 3 p.m. on March 1, 2011, Mr. Yu Yungang (于云刚) reportedly passed out due to torture, and was rushed to the No. 2 hospital affiliated with Jiamusi University. He underwent surgery on his skull and was sent to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) (photo). Plainclothes and uniformed police officers heavily guarded his room and regulated which medical personnel were allowed to enter and exit (photo). Yu underwent another emergency treatment at around 4 p.m. on March 3, 2011. Then, on the afternoon of March 5, 2011, several dozen officers surrounded the ICU. Officers took Yu's clothes from his family and quickly put them on Yu. They were about to carry him away. Only then did his family realize that he must have died. At their insistence, the family was given five minutes to say their goodbyes outside, as Yu's body lay in a police vehicle before it rushed off. Yu was 48 years old when he died. He had been abducted in February 2009, during the 24th Winter Universiade, an international college sporting event was held in Harbin. Later that year, he was sentenced following blatantly illegal proceedings to 8 years in prison. The Falun Dafa Information Center reported his imprisonment at the time. His siblings report being harassed since his death (see here for the full details on Yu's case).
Only three days after Yu's death, on March 8, 2011, Mr. Liu Chungjiang (刘传江) who was also being held in the "Strict Management Team," died in custody. He was 55 years old. Fewer details are currently available on the circumstances surrounding his death. His body was removed from the infirmary an hour after he passed away and two days after that, on March 10, his family was coerced by the authorities into approving his cremation (see here for the full details on Liu's case).
The Falun Dafa Information Center urges journalists, diplomats, and human rights groups to further investigate the facts surrounding these deaths and conditions at Jiamusi Prison, as well as to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all Falun Gong prisoners of conscience being held there. The Center also calls for more in-depth investigation of the three-year transformation campaign (of which many details are openly available on Communist Party websites) and its consequences.
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