Ms. Zhang Yaqin’s husband was dealt a heavy blow when Hunan Province Women’s Prison called him on December 12, 2020, to say that Ms. Zhang had just passed away.
In the past 17 months after Ms. Zhang, 65, was admitted to the prison to serve time for her faith in Falun Gong, the prison had never allowed her family to visit her. They said it was because she refused to give up Falun Gong, a mind-body practice that has been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since 1999.
It’s reported that Ms. Zhang, a Xiangtan City, Hunan Province, resident, was subjected to torture in prison and became emaciated as a result. Her family was also threatened and monitored over the years of ongoing persecution.
This was the second time that Ms. Zhang was sentenced to prison for practicing Falun Gong. While her recent ordeal remains to be investigated, it is known that during her first 3.5-year term at the same prison between 2008 and 2011, she was shocked with electric batons, deprived of sleep, forced to stand for long hours, tied up on a tiger bench, and subjected to a handcuffing torture in which she had one hand pulled over her shoulder to be cuffed with the other hand pulled up behind her back. She was also forced to do intensive labor and was injected with unknown drugs. She barely survived the torture.
Two Decades of Persecution and Family’s Plight
Ms. Zhang took up Falun Gong in December 1996. Within six months, many ailments that had tormented her for years, including gastritis, heart disease, rheumatism, and headache, all disappeared without medical treatment. She lived by Falun Gong’s principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance and experienced an elevation of her mind and body.
After the Chinese communist regime ordered the persecution in 1999, Ms. Zhang faced constant harassment and lived every day in fear and under huge pressure.
In addition to constant harassment and daily surveillance, Ms. Zhang was arrested 11 times and put on administrative and criminal detention 7 times. Her home was ransacked 16 times and her brother’s home was ransacked twice and her mother’s home three times. In addition to her two prison terms, Ms. Zhang also served one year of forced labor and was detained in a brainwashing center for a month.
Her husband, who also practices Falun Gong, was arrested 5 times and served 1.5 years at Xinkaipu Forced Labor Camp.
The couple's daughter, who didn't practice Falun Gong, was once held in custody and ordered to provide false accounts against them. Ms. Zhang’s incapacitated mother faced constant harassment from the police in 2005, despite her being in serious condition after taking a fall. The elderly woman was so traumatized that she passed away.
Repeated Arrests Between 2000 and 2005
Ms. Zhang and her husband were first arrested on June 22, 2000, when they went to Beijing to appeal for the right to practice Falun Gong. She was detained at the Xicheng District Detention Center and her husband was held at the Chaoyang District Detention Center.
They were taken back to Xiangtan on July 4 and given another 45 days of detention. After they were released, her husband’s workplace suspended his pension for two years and he was also fined 10,000 yuan, ostensibly to pay for the officers’ travel expenses to Beijing to bring the couple back. The 1,700 yuan in cash he had was taken away by the Beijing police during a body search.
The couple was arrested again in early 2002 while staying at Ms. Zhang's brother’s home in the nearby Zhuzhou City to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Her husband was beaten and interrogated twice. Both of them were taken to the Zhuzhou City No.1 Detention Center on February 9 and detained there for a month.
After the police failed to find any Falun Gong-related materials after searching her brother’s home, they arrested Ms. Zhang’s daughter and sister (also a Falun Gong practitioner) and attempted to force them to provide false accounts against her and her husband during their 20-hour detention. Ms. Zhang’s brother was extorted for 100 yuan by the officers to pay for their meals.
During the 2004 Chinese New Year, which happened to be around the Communist Party’s National Congress, the authorities monitored Ms. Zhang around the clock for a month. When she went downstairs to take out her trash on February 25, she was arrested and sent to the Wujiahuayuan Brainwashing Center, where she was subjected to many torture methods during her one-month detention there.
Before she was released, Xu Fumin, the head of the local 610 Office (an extralegal agency specifically created to persecute Falun Gong), found Ms. Zhang and asked for her husband’s whereabouts.
During Ms. Zhang’s detention, her husband had gone back to his hometown to avoid the persecution. Fearing that the police would harass their family members, Ms. Zhang asked her husband to come back, after the authorities promised not to arrest him.
Soon after her husband returned home, the police arrived at their home to arrest him. Eighteen officers ransacked their home. After failing to find any Falun Gong-related materials, the officers took away the couple’s photos and downloaded several photos of Falun Gong activities from the Internet with the couple’s computer. Using that as “evidence” to charge Ms. Zhang’s husband, the police handcuffed his arms behind his back – with the handcuffs so tight that his arms swelled immediately. Then they took him away and gave him 1.5 years of forced labor.
After his detention, his workplace suspended his pension again. As Ms. Zhang and her daughter didn’t have a job, the financial persecution was devastating to the family. After they frequented several agencies to seek justice, the authorities finally agreed to resume her husband’s pension, but with the condition that they pay the police 2,998 yuan to cover the investigation cost. The 1,500 yuan cash confiscated from the couple during the home-raid was never returned.
Ms. Zhang’s mother took a fall on January 1, 2005 and was in serious condition. Ms. Zhang rushed back to take care of her mother, but was followed by the police. The officers monitored her around the clock and frequently knocked on the door or called them. There were several times that as soon as her mother fell asleep at night, the police called to harass them and woke her up.
Despite her mother’s condition, the police still arrested Ms. Zhang and detained her for 15 days. Her mother was so terrified that her condition quickly worsened and she passed away shortly after.
Labor Camp and Prison Terms
In 2006, Ms. Zhang was arrested again and given one year at Baimalong Women’s Forced Labor Camp. She was released on September 30, 2007.
Several months later, she was arrested again on March 2, 2008. After one night of detention at Wujiahuayuan Brainwashing Center, she was taken to the Sanjiaping Detention Center on the next day and held there for five months. After she developed dangerously high blood pressure in custody, the authorities released her on bail on August 11, 2008.
For the next few months, the police and staffers from the local 610 Office, court and procuratorate harassed Ms. Zhang and her daughter at her workplace every two days. They forced her daughter to read propaganda demonizing Falun Gong and pressured her to slander Falun Gong.
Xu Fumin, the 610 Office director, led a group of officers to break into Ms. Zhang’s home on December 30, 2008, and arrested her. After spending several days at the Sanjiaping Detention Center, she appeared in the Yuhu District Court on January 4, 2009, and was later sentenced to three years. She appealed the verdict, but her appeal was rejected by the intermediate court. She was taken to the Hunan Province Women’s Prison on March 10, 2009.
Torture in the Hunan Province Women’s Prison
At the Hunan Province Women's Prison, Ms. Zhang was subjected to a variety of barbaric torture aimed to force her to give up her faith. She was beaten until her face was completely bruised. When the wood stick broke from the beating, the guards found a new one and continued to beat her. They also kicked her, pinched her, and tied her up vertically to a bed. When she refused to wear the prison uniform in protest of the persecution, the guards forced her to wear it.
Additionally, Ms. Zhang was once deprived of sleep for seven consecutive days. During that time, the inmates took turns monitoring her. As soon as she closed her eyes, they beat her and poured cold water on her.
On another occasion, the guards injected her with unknown drugs that caused swelling and pain in her abdomen. She also drooled uncontrollably and her saliva had a strange taste.
Ms. Zhang also recounted that the guards drew her blood twice. It’s not clear whether it was related to the forced organ harvesting crimes perpetrated against living Falun Gong practitioners.
On April 23, 2009, Ms. Zhang was transferred to the Sixth Ward for more intensified torture. The guards first forced her to stand from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., and sometimes extended it to 4 a.m. She had to keep her body straight without moving and her eyes opened. Several inmates monitored her during the torture. They either poured cold water on her or slapped her in the face if she closed her eyes. The standing torture lasted for 40 days. As the guards progressively extended the time, Ms. Zhang’s legs became more and more swollen, to the point that she was unable to bend her legs or squat down to use the pit toilet.
Seeing that Ms. Zhang was still steadfast in her faith, two guards shocked her with electric batons simultaneously on June 3, 2009. One guard shocked her neck and the other her abdomen. Ms. Zhang recounted later that her body twitched with every electric shock and her heart felt like being pierced by countless arrows at the same time.
The guards also applied a painful handcuffing torture, with one hand pulled up behind the back, and the other pulled down over the shoulder. Most people would faint due to the intense pain after five or six hours, but Ms. Zhang was tortured like this for up to 40 hours, for four times.
The last round of handcuffing torture lasted 22 hours. When the guards finally released her arms, they were completely numb. Her wrists were covered with blisters. In some areas, the handcuffs had cut deep into her flesh. The pain and injuries persisted for more than three years. Only after she returned home and resumed practicing Falun Gong, did her arms slowly recover.
On September 1, 2009, the prison authorities moved Ms. Zhang to a brainwashing center, where she endured brainwashing for over four months. The guards tortured her further to try to force her to give up her belief. They forced her to hand copy all the rules and regulations of the prison and to sit on a small bench without moving. Her buttocks developed painful sores after fifteen days of this torture.
The guards subsequently forced Ms. Zhang to stand for over sixty days, while cursing her, kicking her, pulling her hair, and using a flyswatter to hit her eyes, mouth, and ears. She was not allowed to go to the bathroom for 24 hours straight.
As soon as Ms. Zhang recovered a little, the guards made her do intensive unpaid labor, sewing bamboo mats. Due to the injuries in her arms, she often accidentally stabbed herself with the needles. She was forced to work for one year and eight months.
Last Arrest and Prison Sentence
Ms. Zhang’s last arrest was on December 30, 2018, when she was apprehended for talking to people about Falun Gong at a farmer’s market. She was sentenced to three years and sent to the Hunan Province Women’s Prison on August 13, 2019.
She died in custody 17 months later around December 12, 2020, at the age of 65.
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