Sentenced to Five Years at 76 and Pension Suspended, Shandong Engineer Dies After Years of Living in Poverty

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A Falun Gong practitioner in Jinan City, Shandong Province was sentenced to five years for his faith in 2008, when he was 76. The prison authorities released Mr. Wang Hongzhang on parole in 2012 after he developed heart palpitations and was in critical condition. Citing his imprisonment, his company suspended his pension from 2014 to 2016 and only gave him minimal income subsidies in the last two years.

Having to take care of his mentally ill adult daughter by himself and struggling to make ends meet, Mr. Wang lived in poverty and despair after his release from prison. When a friend visited him on January 21, 2019, it was dim and chilly with a strange odour in the air at his home. The friend left some food for him and tried to cheer him up. That afternoon, Mr. Wang was found dead. He was 87.

Mr. Wang's death capped his years of ordeal for upholding his faith in Falun Gong. Also known as Falun Dafa, Falun Gong is a meditation system that consists of gentle exercises and the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. The Chinese Communist Party began to suppress Falun Gong in July 1999. Mr. Wang was detained many times in labour camps, prison, or other facilities.

Mr. Wang Hongzhang, 87, died on January 21, 2019

Mind and Body Improvement
Mr. Wang was a retired engineer from Jinan Steel Group, where he worked since the company was founded in 1958. The long-term hard work took a toll on his health, and he could only work part time in the 1980s. He took lots of medicines and tried more than 10 types of qigong systems. Nothing really helped and he was still very ill.

In January 1994, Mr. Wang joined the first 9-day lecture series in Jinan given by Mr. Li Hongzhi, founder of Falun Gong. Within a few months, he became healthy with his grey hair turned black. Intrigued by the positive changes, he and his wife attended 9 lecture series in total.

In addition to physical improvement, Mr. Wang also worked harder at work and no longer had that many conflicts with his colleagues. He cared about others and was very considerate. He also volunteered as a Falun Gong group exercise site assistant.

Numerous Terms of Detention and Forced Labour
After the persecution started in 1999, Jinan Steel Group sent someone to sit in a vehicle outside Mr. Wang's apartment to watch him every day. This went on for several months. Later on, the company hired three people to monitor him on a regular basis, with one retiree following him and two neighbours keeping an eye on his visitors.

Between July 1999 and October 2000, Mr. Wang was detained several times. In October 2000, he was sent to the Liuchangshan Labour Camp with a three-year term.

Mr. Wang was reported to police while putting up Falun Gong informational materials on August 4, 2008. He was arrested and sent to a brainwashing centre. Officials threatened to jail him if he refused to give up his belief. His company rewarded the person who turned him in with 10,000 yuan.

After going on a hunger strike to protest, Mr. Wang was sent to a police hospital, followed by Licheng Detention Centre one month later. His cell was cold, as the guards ordered the door and windows open at all times. He was given very little to eat. With inmates crammed into the bed on both sides, he also had difficulties sleeping.

Torture in Prison
Without notifying his family or employer, the local court held a secret trial and sentenced Mr. Wang to five years in December 2008. Two months later, Mr. Wang was sent to Shandong Province Prison, where the guards instigated criminal inmates to torture him by promising them with term reductions. After just a few days of abuse, he began to have difficulty breathing and suffered from severe coughing.

In Division 11 of the prison, Mr. Wang was forbidden to talk or interact with anyone. Two inmates were assigned to watch him and force him to sit on a small stool all day long. In June 2009, one guard sent Mr. Wang to a different unit for Chen Yulei, an organized crime gang member, to torture him. There were slogans defaming Falun Gong all over the cell. When Mr. Wang refused to yield, he was denied access to water and the toilet and deprived of sleep.

Seeing Ms. Wang not forsaking his belief, Chen instructed several of the most vicious inmates to torture him. “At midnight, they dragged me down from bed and beat me hard. After that, one thug squeezed my hand, while another thug kept twisting a pen between my fingers until skin and flesh were worn out. My legs kept trembling because of the pain, but they pressed them hard all the time. The thugs then held me down on the bed and beat my buttocks with a mop handle, while others hit my palm, sole, and calf with smaller sticks. It was so painful that I screamed. They beat me many times and dragged me around on the floor. When I went to the bathroom later, blood came out with urine. After coming back, I could not sit or sleep,” recalled Mr. Wang.

The brutal beating continued the next day. When Mr. Wang felt an irregular heartbeat and requested to see a doctor, Chen replied, “We don't care if you die here. The report will say that you died of a heart attack here and we will send you to cremation directly.” Mr. Wang's legs were severely swollen, as if he was wearing a pair of boots. He could not eat with a spoon, either.

The torture went on for five days. As a result, Mr. Wang had chest pain and was aching even when breathing. In addition, he also had an injured buttocks, with his underwear soaked in blood. Inmate Chen asked another inmate named Liu Jian to torture Mr. Wang to death at night. Because of the death of another practitioner, Mr. Lv Zhen, a guard did not want another occurrence and stopped Liu.

The guards later ordered a medical examination of Mr. Wang. He was found to have an irregular heartbeat and swollen legs, and he was in critical condition. A doctor recommended hospitalization, but the request was blocked by prison officials.

Mr. Wang was not hospitalized until August 4, 2009. By then, he was extremely weak.

Six months later, Mr. Wang returned to the prison and inmates continued to abuse him. In addition to Mr. Wang, inmates also mistreated Mr. Shao Chengluo, another practitioner who was in the same cell. Mr. Shao had been on hunger strike for four months and weighed only about 100 pounds. Starting in June 2011, an inmate blew an electric fan towards Mr. Wang and Mr. Shao, claiming he'd continue to do so until they died. As a result, Mr. Wang had a relapse of his heart problem and was hospitalized four more months.

Mr. Wang was hospitalized again in December 2011. He began to suffer from irregular heartbeat again in March 2012. He could not lie down or sleep.

The prison authorities feared that he might die in custody and decided to release him on medical parole. They tried to force Mr. Wang to sign documents to renounce Falun Gong. He protested with silence and returned home on the next day.

Employer-sponsored Pension Withheld
Mr. Wang kept shivering and could hardly stand when he first returned home. Through practising Falun Gong, he started to recover.

His company did not stop harassing him. They sent people to harass him at home and also had someone watch him 24 hours a day in a car outside the apartment complex. This continued until Mr. Wang's death.

Citing their practice of Falun Gong, Jinan Steel Group stopped pension benefits of Mr. Wang and his wife, both retirees of the company, in 2000. While Mr. Wang was in prison in 2011, the company detained his wife again.

When Mr. Wang went to inquire about his pension benefits upon his release from prison, he found that the pension was actually paid regularly, but was deducted by his company management, citing his imprisonment and practising Falun Gong.

Mr. Wang was later given about 500 yuan per month. In 2018, it increased to 1,900 yuan per month. By the time he died in January 2019, the total pension deducted by his company was estimated to be over 200,000 yuan.

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