It is called the 610 Office, and it is the extra-legal police task force responsible for carrying out the mission of eliminating Falun Gong.\n\n\n\nThere is no legislation establishing the 610 Office\u2014named after its June 10, 1999 date of creation\u2014nor are there laws delineating its powers. Instead, it was established by former Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin and announced in his speech to elite cadres over a month before Falun Gong was officially banned. Jiang\u2019s orders for the new bureau? \u201cImmediately organize forces,\u201d \u201cform battle strategies,\u201d and \u201cget fully prepared for the work of disintegrating [Falun Gong].\u201d\n\n\n\nCopies of Jiang\u2019s speech about the 610 Office were immediately circulated to every level of China\u2019s bureaucracy, telling cadres they \u201cmust cooperate\u201d closely with the 610 and its affiliates. Aided by the fact that all Chinese judges were Communist Party members, Jiang essentially placed the agency above the law, in violation of Article 5 of China\u2019s constitution. \n\n\n\nAs the persecution intensified, so did Falun Gong adherents\u2019 determination to continue practicing and to demand redress. The regime\u2019s response was to grant the 610 Office increasingly wide-ranging powers. Jiang gave orders to use \u201cevery means necessary,\u201d a mandate that led to what the 610 Office soon become most notorious for\u2014the use of extreme torture.\n\n\n\nAlong with beatings to the face and body with heavy objects, some of the most common torture techniques that 610 personnel administer or supervise include sleep deprivation for days and weeks, shocks to sensitive body parts with up to six high voltage cattle prods simultaneously, the prying out of fingernails, and force-feeding human excrement.\n\n\n\n\u201cThe immoral act that has shaken my soul most is the 610 Office and policeman\u2019s regular practice of assaulting women\u2019s genitals,\u201d wrote Beijing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng after a 2005 investigation into abuses against Falun Gong in northeastern China. \u201cOf those persecuted, almost every woman\u2019s genitals and breasts and every man\u2019s private parts have been sexually assaulted in a most vulgar fashion. Almost all who have been persecuted, be they male or female, were stripped naked before being tortured.\u201d\n\n\n\nThe aim of such methods is to extract forced confessions and \u201ctransformation,\u201d marked by denunciation of Falun Gong. But for thousands, the result has been death.\n\n\n\nIn addition to torture, 610 agents administratively sentence Falun Gong adherents directly to labor camps, detention centers, and brainwashing classes\u2014where they can be locked away for three years without a day in court.\n\n\n\nThe puppeteer\n\n\n\nWith such over-arching authority, one would expect the 610 Office to have an enormous staff, but available evidence indicates its manpower is surprisingly limited. According to an official webpage belonging to the municipality of Penglai, a Shandong province city of 490,000, the 610 Office there consists of only seven people.\n\n\n\nThe 610 Office\u2019s real power lies in its ability to force the hands of other Party and government bodies. Tianjin\u2019s central 610 branch, for instance, employs 50\u201360 staff who can directly order the city\u2019s 30,000-strong police force, with one 610 officer often supervising over 100 ordinary policemen, according to the city\u2019s former 610 operative Hao Fengjun.\n\n\n\nThus, it was the Central 610 Office that directed the arrest of over five thousand Falun Gong practitioner in Changchun in March 2002. \u201cEvery day the police \u2018interrogated\u2019 all of the practitioners on the 610 Office\u2019s blacklist,\u201d said Wang Yuhuan, who was arrested at the time and later spoke with Gao.\n\n\n\nSimilarly, when Gao and another lawyer tried visiting their client, a Falun Gong practitioner held in a labor camp, Gao recalls being told that administrators could approve requests to see any inmate. But to see a Falun Gong practitioner, \u201cwe would need special approval from the 610 Office,\u201d camp officials said.\n\n\n\nGuo Guoting, another Chinese rights lawyer, tells of a similar experience when he sought permission to see a Falun Gong practitioner imprisoned in Shanghai. When it comes to Falun Gong prisoners, the 610 Office calls the shots, he said in an interview from Vancouver, Canada, where he now lives in exile. \u201cAs for the prisons themselves, they have no power.\u201d\n\n\n\nThis reach also extends to courtrooms, Guo says. \u201cI know that the Falun Gong cases are not decided by the judge, but according to the 610 Office\u2019s instructions. They handle these cases.\u201d\n\n\n\nHow does the 610 Office pull this off, then? How has it managed to garner such power? The answer lies in its structure and the way it has latched onto existing Chinese Communist Party machinery.\n\n\n\nAfter a Leadership Team and 610 Office were established under the CCP\u2019s Central Committee, corresponding bodies were created at every administrative level as well as in major social organizations, large companies, work units, and universities. Each branch is closely linked to the local Party committees, the political-legal committees, or Public Security Bureau offices.\n\n\n\nThe above-mentioned Penglai 610 Office, for example, is listed under the political-legal committee, part of a national network of CCP organs that oversee arrests, interrogations and prosecutions. Such connections are what enable the 610 Office to manipulate the criminal justice system. \n\n\n\nThe website of the Public Security Bureau assigned to Qingdao\u2019s Ocean University of China reports that the school established an office for the purpose of \u201cdisposing of the Falun Gong problem, namely the 610 Office, within the school\u2019s public security [bureau].\u201d The Women\u2019s Federation in Jinan flaunted on its website that a study it conducted after monitoring local residents who practice Falun Gong was published in 610 Office newsletters. \n\n\n\nBut it is through a still-pervasive Party structure that the 610 Office is able to penetrate down to the most basic units of Chinese society. An internal memo dated April 21, 2001 was addressed to all \u201cworking committees, village and town committees, and neighborhood committee offices,\u201d in west Beijing\u2019s Mentougou district. It relays orders to increase local surveillance of Falun Gong and for \u201cevery work unit\u201d to integrate \u201cinspecting and controlling\u2026 with the current re-education work.\u201d \n\n\n\nThe circular further instructs township and neighborhood committees to \u201cclosely cooperate with the work launched by the public security organs,\u201d as they search door-to-door for Falun Gong adherents.\n\n\n\nNeither the close surveillance nor the Party\u2019s belief in its imperativeness appears to have faded with time, either. A different memo dated April 2006 gives the same instructions, almost verbatim, to Party committees at the township and county levels. \n\n\n\nQuotas and Cash\n\n\n\nWhile some local officials have enthusiastically followed such instructions, others are hesitant to act against their neighbors. Indeed, when Falun Gong was first banned, there were reports of public indifference or even silent opposition to the campaign. Under such circumstances, the 610 Office developed various incentive mechanisms to pressure lower officials and ordinary citizens to cooperate.\n\n\n\nIn 2000, The Wall Street Journal\u2019s Ian Johnson, who won a Pulitzer for his coverage of Falun Gong, described a \u201cresponsibility system\u201d that the 610 Office instituted. Under this arrangement, local officials were fined potentially ruinous sums for every practitioner from their jurisdiction who reached Beijing in order to petition the central government.\n\n\n\nSuch evaluation became more formalized over time. A 2002 chart from Guangzhou shows a complex system for awarding and deducting points based on collaboration with the 610 Office. The table is to be completed by each township and neighborhood in the Tianhe district as part of its year-end assessment. Among the items listed are: \u201cDeduct 8 points for every practitioner who has not been transformed\u201d; for failing to \u201cestablish a personal dossier for every Falun Gong practitioner\u2026 deduct 3 points per person\u201d; and \u201cfor every time a group of more than three people gathered to exercise together in public, deduct 5 points.\u201d\n\n\n\nAnother common 610 technique is imposing quotas on each level below. A typical quota includes the number of practitioners that need to be arrested over a certain period of time.\n\n\n\nOfficers who fail to meet their annual quota face demotion or may even lose their jobs. Hao Fengjun, the former Tianjin 610 officer, says he had a change of heart after he witnessed how a woman named Sun Ti, who practices Falun Gong, was tortured as part of the \u201ctransformation process.\u201d As his disillusionment with the 610 Office\u2019s work increased, so did the severity of the measures used to keep him in line.\n\n\n\nHao tells of one episode in February 2004 when he was placed in solitary confinement, made specifically for policemen, for 30 days after calling the state\u2019s anti-Falun Gong propaganda \u201clies.\u201d \n\n\n\nThe former policeman says that during his detention he was not allowed to call his family. The cold temperature in the cell made his hands \u201cswollen like steamed buns\u201d and his ears emit pus. After being released, he was moved to the mailroom until he fled to Australia in 2005 with a bundle of smuggled 610 documents.\n\n\n\nThough he says many of his colleagues disapprove of their work, plenty others were quick to tap into the 610 Office\u2019s system of rewards. \u201cThere were people who worked very hard because the more Falun Gong practitioners they arrested, the more bonuses they would get,\u201d says Hao.\n\n\n\nEven more lucrative than arresting practitioners in China is collecting intelligence on overseas adherents; basic information about practitioners\u2019 personal lives, if deemed valuable, typically fetches as much as 50,000 yuan (over $6,000). Through a system of informants otherwise leading ordinary lives overseas, the 610 builds entire profiles of overseas communities. Hao says he \u201cpersonally received intelligence information about Falun Gong practitioners in Australia, the United States, and Canada\u201d so detailed as to reveal where people worked and which activities they joined. \n\n\n\nIs it working?\n\n\n\nSince Falun Gong protests on Tiananmen Square died down in 2002, a prevailing sentiment among many Western journalists and scholars is that the Communist Party has succeeded, perhaps brutally, in crushing the group.\n\n\n\nYet Party documents and insiders tell a different story. In 2006, 610 Offices were still concerned that Falun Gong banners were being too visible. In 2005, Chinese authorities reportedly confiscated 4.62 million items of Falun Gong material. The Party still ranks Falun Gong as first among the \u201cfive poisons\u201d it fears most (democracy advocates, Taiwan independence supporters, Tibetans, and East Turkistan activists being the others). \n\n\n\n\u201cWe were all clear,\u201d Hao says, \u201cthat our internal communication was all about how the persecution is failing.\u201d\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nSarah Cook is a Marshall Scholar completing an LLM degree in International Law at the University of London, and has served as an NGO delegate on Chinese torture cases to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.