World Magazine: Chinese torture victims recount prison horrors

World Magazine
By Laura Finch

Posted April 15, 2016, 10:25 a.m.

■ Tuesday marks the 15th anniversary of Yin Liping’s gang rape in a Chinese prison. 

Yesterday, through tears, she choked out her story before a U.S. congressional committee. Liping is a practitioner of Falun Gong, a relatively young Chinese religion that draws on Buddhist and Taoist elements—and scares the Communist Party. Liping described being thrown onto a bed by four or five male inmates, one of whom sat on her and beat her until she passed out. When she regained consciousness, three men lay beside her. The men also abused one of the other female prisoners with instruments like broken broomsticks and bundles of toothbrushes bound together. Over time the torture grew so bad a fellow inmate died in Liping’s arms.

A Chinese national flag flutters against the office buildings at
the Shanghai Bund, shrouded by pollution and fog in Shanghai,
China. Associated Press/Photo by Andy Wong

“We are here today to shine a light on the brutal, illegal, and dehumanizing use of torture in China,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said in his opening statement during Thursday’s meeting of the Congressional Executive Committee on China. “We shine a light because nothing good happens in the dark.”

Chinese officials sent Liping and her fellow prisoners to a male forced labor camp, allowing other prisoners to do the torturing. But recent cases of direct torture by the Chinese government also are well documented. Geng He, wife of a top Chinese defense lawyer whose “crimes” included representing Christians and practitioners of Falun Gong, related in a written statement how police tortured her husband so badly he begged to be sent to jail rather than endure any more.

“If you think you’re going to prison, dream on,” they told him. “We can make you disappear permanently!”

Chinese officials claim the country has no political prisoners. Tiger chairs, a well known torture device, exist for prisoners’ “comfort and safety.” Country leaders say they have verbally and voluntarily subscribed to international human rights norms through the UN. And according to China, the U.S. is the one with a bad human rights record.

But examples of horrific human rights abuses are well documented, and the country continues to reject visits by UN special rapporteurs. Coerced confessions also are a growing concern. Incremental improvements in the Chinese criminal justice system, like a new rule requiring videotaped interrogations for major cases, don’t help much. A defendant would still need a lawyer who could use such a recording in court, noted Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law. And they rarely appear before a judge willing to question the police.

Lewis explained Thursday that China is picking and choosing which legal protections to enforce. China’s conviction rate is nearly 100 percent, Lewis said, proving any presumption of innocence is basically meaningless. She also described a criminal trial she attended in December in Beijing, which hinged on a single witness testimony. No witnesses were called. The government, she said, “takes actions without any legal basis to silence voices perceived as threatening to the existing political structure.”

Nothing will change in China, Smith said, until the government deems the domestic and global consequences too harmful to ignore. China is not fully implementing and enforcing its own laws, and Obama is running out of opportunities to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Smith and committee co-chair Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., together encouraged Obama to bring up human rights during his meeting with Jinping last week at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Summit. The White House said only that Obama reiterated at the meeting America’s commitment to human rights.

Sophie Richards, China director for Human Rights Watch, pointed to September’s State Dinner in Washington as another missed opportunity, especially because China had great interest in the event.

“Think about the kind of engagements that Beijing is interested in,” she said. “The high profile, the glossy, the glitzy … [It] was an occasion that the Chinese cared enormously about. You know, I don’t think a lot of important U.S.-China business necessarily got transacted that night, and it could have been conducted very differently, in a way that would have hurt—for the right reasons.”

Golog Jigme, a Tibetan monk who upset Chinese authorities by filming a 2008 documentary about the Beijing Olympics, also testified Thursday that although he was detained three times, authorities never presented him with a formal document outlining his charges. He was never given a trial, medical treatment, access to counsel, or the ability to contact his family. His extremities swelled so badly from imprisonment in a tiger chair that his toenails fell off. His torturers especially wanted him to give up the names of people he had interviewed for his documentary.

“I haven’t given up one name,” Jigme said.

Laura Finch

Laura is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute’s mid-career course.

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