Torture and Escape Across 8,000 Miles
FOR IMMDEDIATE RELEASE – 8/9/01
A Young Falun Gong Practitioner’s Incredible Journey of Survival – The Government’s Attempt to Crush Him, and Why It Didn’t Work
A Journey of Survival and Conviction
Mr. Tan Yongjie, a 27-year-old factory worker and Falun Gong practitioner, has traveled thousands of miles from China in the cargo hold of a ship, overcoming severe burn injuries to his legs and tremendous odds to escape persecution in China. He is now safely recovering in Houston, Texas.
Tan had been held at the Buluo County labor camp in Guangzhou province since April of this year, where he routinely endured beatings and other forms of torture because he refused to sign documents renouncing his practice. He recalls that one time the guards strung him up from a jail cell window with a pair of handcuffs for more than five hours with his feet barely touching the ground. When he was thrown back into his small cell, both his wrists were covered with blood.
On June 2nd, three guards once again tortured Tan and tried to force him to sign a “repentance statement” renouncing Falun Gong. When he silently refused, the guards tied him to a post, heated an iron rod in a furnace until it glowed red, and began applying it to his legs. The pain was so excruciating that Tan lost control of his bowel and bladder functions. The guards pressed the rod on his legs 13 times, spacing them out at regular intervals on his flesh, asking him all the while if he would renounce his belief in Falun Gong. He never did. Doctors in Houston, Texas later revealed that the burns were so deep they reached the muscle tissue.
When the guards finally stopped the torture, they brought Tan outside and ordered him to watch the orchard. Thinking that his legs were too badly injured for him to run away, they left him unsupervised. Tan relates that even he himself did not know where he found the courage to attempt an escape, but on the second night of his watch on June 3rd, he slowly began hobbling on his badly burned legs, using a wooden stick as a crutch. He hid himself in the brush during the day, eating a few broken pieces of sugarcane left by field mice, and continued walking at night. On June 5th, he finally managed to board a tractor leaving the labor camp — or “hell hole” as he describes it — behind.
Tan then managed to escape to Hong Kong on a train carrying pig carcasses. Badly injured as he was, he knew that he could not stay in Hong Kong for long or he would be captured and sent back. So, on June 10th, he put some bread and water in a plastic bag and secretly boarded a cargo ship. For two weeks, he battled the constant pain of his festering burn wounds as well as the nausea of seasickness from the rolling and jolting of the ship. He recalls that the cargo hold was dirty, humid and pitch black. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he says he gained strength by recalling passages from Zhuan Falun, the main text of Falun Dafa, in his mind. “Had I not practiced Falun Dafa, I absolutely could not have imagined surviving,” he said.
Despite his careful rationing, his food and water ran out during the last few days. On June 24th, the ship docked in Long Beach, California. Even getting off the ship was a struggle, and he almost fainted from the sudden sunlight. Later, an elderly man driving a van on his way to Florida offered him a ride. Tan got out in Houston, Texas, penniless and with nowhere to go, until local police found him and sent him to the Star of Hope Shelter.
On July 13, Tan’s untreated wounds split open and he was admitted to the Park Plaza Hospital where he underwent extensive skin graft therapy. Doctors said it was a miracle that he was even alive. Hearing of the torture that Tan endured in the Chinese labor camp, Dr. Gail Burbridge said the pain of recovering from third-degree burns, excruciating as it is, “is nothing compared to what he’s been through… It’s mind boggling how some human beings can be so cruel to other human beings.”
Chinese Regime’s Systematic Use of Torture, “Re-education”
Tan’s story is, by no means, an isolated incident. According to an article in the Washington Post on August 4, the Communist regime has implemented a three-pronged approach in its efforts to “eradicate Falun Gong”: violence, a high-pressure propaganda campaign, and intense brainwashing. According to this article, all three elements together are crucial, as they do not appear to be “effective” in isolation.
Inside the labor camps and “reeducation” classes around the country, of course, it is the systematic use of torture, both mental and physical, that has the most direct impact. A recent ABC News Online report states that Falun Gong practitioners “make up close to half the number of Chinese people being held in labour camps.” One official quoted in the Washington Post article admits: “practitioners who are not beaten generally do not abandon the group.” The purpose of the torture is to break their will, force them to “renounce their belief” in Falun Gong and sign “repentance statements.” If they do so, they may have a chance to be released, but if they do not, the torture will continue and intensify until they either give up or are killed in the process.
“The Government Can’t Change Our Hearts.”
Outside the labor camps and brainwashing classes, Falun Gong practitioners are finding creative ways to break through the government’s one-sided propaganda campaign and perhaps help ease the pressure on the practitioners who have been captured. While fewer Falun Gong practitioners are unfurling banners and protesting on Tiananmen Square because of the heavy police presence, they have instead taken to printing and distributing materials and flyers that reveal the facts behind the persecution. Practitioners sometimes also manage to post large posters and banners in major thoroughfares. They even set up loudspeakers up on rooftops or trees around labor camps and in densely populated areas to broadcast news about the human rights abuses taking place under the persecution.
Erping Zhang, spokesman for Falun Gong says the resistance is alive and well: “For every practitioner who has been forced to denounce Falun Gong, there are thousands who risk their lives every day to affirm their faith and freedom of spirit. It’s just that the outside world can’t see them because they’re hidden from view.”
Amy Lee, a young fashion designer who, like Tan, escaped persecution in China just a few months ago, says: “I know for a fact that the vast majority of the practitioners in my area in Guangzhou have remained steadfast. Even the ones who renounce under extreme pressure immediately regret is as soon as they’re released and go back to being practitioners, more dedicated than ever.” The Washington Post article, too, reports that Alex Hsu, a student who “recanted” in a brainwashing class, has now gone into hiding because he has chosen to continue practicing Falun Gong. His reason: “[The authorities] forced us to lie. We knew Falun Gong is good, but they forced us to say it was evil.”
Adds Amy Lee, “Tan’s incredible journey has shown us all just how strong and free the human spirit can be. No matter what it does, the Chinese government can’t change our hearts. I hope they come to realize that soon.”