Jailed Teacher Who Received International Attention Released After 12-Year Sentence, Torture
On June 24, 2023, Mr. Bian Lichao, a former teacher in Hebei was released from Shijiazhuang Prison after a 12-year sentence for allegedly producing Shen Yun Performing Arts DVDs and posters, according to Weiquanwang (Rights Protection Network).
Given the unusually harsh ruling in his case, Bian, now 57, has been featured multiple times as a notable prisoner of conscience in the U.S. Department of State’s annual report on Human Rights Practices—one of 16 representative cases in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Political Prisoner Database, and mentioned in annual CECC reports since 2015. The United States Embassy and Consulates in China also featured his case in the Chinese version of the “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet).”
From Star Teacher to Prisoner of Conscience
Prior to the sentence, Bian Lichao was a star teacher at Kailuan Tenth Middle School in Tangshan City, Hebei Province. He has 20 years of teaching experience, and he was named an outstanding employee by the school many times for his dedication. However, since the persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999, the school management deprived him of that position because he adhered to his faith.
Outside of school, Bian was involved in actively disseminating information and spent most of his time raising awareness about the Chinese regime’s persecution of Falun Gong, despite being under surveillance by local Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities.
On February 25, 2012, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and the extralegal 610 Office security forces launched a campaign targeting the dissemination of Shen Yun Performing Arts DVDs and posters.
The US-based Shen Yun Performing Arts is banned in China due to its mission of reviving traditional Chinese culture and its depiction of the persecution of Falun Gong. Because Shen Yun is unable to perform in China, individual Falun Gong practitioners started downloading the performance tapes and distributing them in their communities.
Because Chinese security forces viewed such actions as disseminating banned materials, they would punish people who would peacefully promote traditional arts, including with judicial prosecutions. Perpetrators of this crackdown campaign in 2012 included officers from the MPS and the 610 Office. They targeted practitioners in more than a dozen provinces (more than half of the total) including Hebei, Liaoning, and Shandong provinces.
On that same day (February 25, 2012), the Lunan District police in Hebei Province, suspecting Bian was involved in the production and dissemination of Shen Yun DVDs and posters, targeted him and his wife, who did not practice Falun Gong. The couple was arbitrarily arrested without a warrant, and police also ransacked and confiscated personal belongings from their home, extorting over 100,000 yuan ($16,000 USD) in cash from them.
Court Officials Falsified Trial Evidence
After four months in detention, Bian was brought before the Intermediate Court of Tangshan City on July 26, 2012 without any family member in attendance, because the officials revoked his wife’s rights to observe the court proceedings. During the trial, Bian defended himself and exposed how the prosecutor, Ren Weijian from the Lunan Procuratorate, unjustly obtained the evidence that was used against him.
“They used my wife and daughter’s safety to threaten me. They also threatened to arrest them if I denied the charges. They called a false witness and used evidence irrelevant to the charges.”
Bian referred to the harassment and unjust treatment he faced during the arrest and detention. Between February and July, officers severely tortured the former middle school teacher many times, attempting to extract confessions. His wife and daughter were threatened and placed under immense scrutiny by police. Bian’s confiscated business assets—including cash—were inaccurately deemed “Falun Gong money” by the court.
After the sham trial, Bian Lichao was sentenced to 12 years in prison by the Intermediate Court of Tangshan City, Hebei Province. After local residents in Bian’s community heard about him being sentenced, 279 of them signed an appeal letter with their fingerprints to call for his release.
Tortured in Prison
Between July 2012 and January 2013, Bian Lichao was placed in Baoding Prison in Hebei Province, where he was monitored and tortured by a rotation of four prison guards and three criminal inmates every day.
After Bian had a heart attack and developed severe myocardial ischemia and myocardial infarction from the torture and maltreatment, he was transferred to the Eighth Ward of the Fourth Prison in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province on January 6, 2013. He stayed there until his release on June 24, 2023. During this decade in confinement, the Shijiazhuang prison authorities inflicted multiple rounds of comprehensive torture tactics on Bian.
After three months, Bian was pale and emaciated, his cheeks sunken, and his eyes deep-set. He also had symptoms of high-blood pressure and cardiac arrest. On April 22, 2013, when his wife visited him in prison, the first thing he said to her was, “Xiuzhen, every time we meet could be our farewell.”
On June 17, 2013, his wife and daughter learned that the authorities had transferred him to a strict management team within the prison, where 26 inmates took turns torturing him around the clock. Mr. Bian’s physical condition quickly deteriorated and he was on the verge of death. He was denied medical parole despite his wife and daughter’s pleas to the prison authorities.
On November 13, 2013, they hired Xia Xinmin, a former Falun Gong practitioner who renounced his faith, to brainwash and mentally abuse Bian. Additional information on his treatment in custody between 2014 and 2023 is unavailable, due to strict information censorship and the detention of his family members who reported the situation previously.
Family Torn Apart
While Bian Lichao was in prison, his wife and daughter widely exposed the torture he was suffering and appealed for public support, angering Shijiazhuang prison officials. During their routine visit to the prison on July 16, 2013, the head of the 28th prison ward, Yue Yuhai, threatened to arrest them with armed guards.
For several months following that incident, Bian’s family members were turned away and denied visitation rights. Starting on March 4, 2014, their daughter Bian Xiaohui, then 23 years of age, began to appeal by standing in front of the prison with a banner that read, “I want to see my father.”
Police officers arrested Ms. Bian at her home on March 12, 2014, and detained her at the Shijiazhuang No.2 Detention Center. Guards forced her to sleep in a room with no bed or proper amenities for 25 days. In addition, Bian was deprived of her right to access legal counsel. After nearly two months of incommunicado detention, she did not meet her lawyers until May 2014.
The day after her daughter’s arrest, Ms. Zhou Xiuzhen was arrested at home, on March 13, 2014. On August 5, 2014, Zhou was tried at Tangshan’s Lunan District Court and accused of publishing information about her husband’s arrest. She was sentenced to four years in prison.
On April 10, 2015, the Qiaodong District Court convicted and sentenced Biao Xiaohui in a closed trial to 3.5 years in prison for violating Article 300, the penal code provision most often used by the Party to justify imprisonment of Falun Gong practitioners. One of Bian’s lawyers was only informed of the verdict several days later.
Bian’s unjust sentencing gained international attention, appearing on the front pages of the South China Morning Post and The Epoch Times. The human rights organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders submitted her case to the United Nations in May 2015.
Both Zhou and Bian served time in Hebei Province Women’s Prison—Ms. Zhou was held in the 9th ward, her daughter in the 14th ward.
According to Minghui.org, due to severe prison abuses in prison, Zhou started vomiting blood and suffered from symptoms of serious fluid accumulation around her liver which caused abdominal swelling, and had to be rushed to the Hebei Provincial Women’s Hospital.
Although Zhou did not practice Falun Gong herself, after her release in 2018 police harassed her for protesting her husband’s sentence at the local police station and for writing open letters to government agencies. In 2020, Zhou died from a liver condition she developed following the abuse she suffered in prison.
As reported by Minghui.org, their daughter Xiaohui was also constantly harassed by Tangshan police. After she married and moved to Linfen City in Shanxi Province, Tangshan police located her, traveled 550 miles there, then forced her landlord to terminate her lease.