JINTAO Liu’s body shuddered in pain as he endured yet another day of extreme torture.
He had woken to pins being pushed into his nails before he was forced to stand still in a yard for some 18 hours. If he moved, he was beaten viciously and within an inch of his life.
Each excruciating second of the gruelling punishment caused his legs to swell as his body threatened to buckle under the pressure. He was given “no toilet breaks”, and shown no mercy. Time had become his enemy — but not his worst.
That was a typical day for Mr Liu during a lengthy stint in a series of Beijing detention centres and labour camps between 2006 and 2009.
There, he was subjected to electric shocks, medical tests, forced feedings, beatings, violent sexual assaults and other barbaric forms of torture designed by prison guards to humiliate and inflict maximum pain.
But it was one particularly savage punishment that etched the deepest psychological scar on Mr Liu.
“The incident which marked me the most was when they, four of (the prison guards), stripped me of my clothes, and used the toilet brush to pierce my anus, saying that they would pierce until I turned homosexual,” Mr Liu told news.com.au.
“They pulled my pubic hairs and played with my genitals.”
His only ‘crime’ was to practice Falun Gong, a spiritual meditation based on the guiding principles of “truth, compassion and tolerance”.
But perhaps just as shocking is that the Chinese government has been carrying out these human rights atrocities — including forced organ removal for harvesting purposes — on innocent citizens and convicted criminals for the best part of the past two decades. And it’s still happening today.
WHAT IS HAPPENING AND WHY?
Mr Liu, 36, is one of thousands of people who have been incarcerated in some of China’s worst jails, labour camps and detention centres for practising Falun Gong and refusing to give up their spiritual beliefs.
By the 1990s Falun Gong had become so popular it was estimated to have 100 million members, outnumbering the country’s ruling Communist Party and prompting former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin to ban the practice in 1999.
Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) Australia spokeswoman Sophia Bryskine said the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners was still extensive with many being locked up “with no legal proceedings”.
“In our recent research and communications we have focused predominantly on prisoners of conscience as the scale of abuse remains vast,” she told news.com.au.
Dr Bryskine said China was committing human rights atrocities on a mass, state-sanctioned level and that Australia, along with the other nations, needed to immediately act and condemn it.
China is Australia’s largest export market for both goods and services, accounting for nearly a third of total exports, and a growing source of foreign investment.
In 2015, Australia signed a landmark Free Trade Agreement with China, with total trade worth almost $160 billion in 2013-14.
But how much do we really know about our largest trading partner?
“Sadly the global awareness of this mass-murder taking place in China is still very limited,” Dr Bryskine said.
Since the Chinese government outlawed Falun Gong, it has detained thousands — most likely hundreds of thousands — of practitioners, according to a 2008 report by the Congressional Commission on China.
“One hundred and twenty two Chinese government websites regularly report detentions of Falun Gong ‘criminal suspects’ and some provincial and local authorities offer rewards as high as 5000 yuan ($US732) to informants who report Falun Gong ‘escaped criminals’,” the report read.
In 2006 the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Novak, concluded that 66 per cent of all prisoners in China were Falun Gong practitioners.
A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch into police torture and ill treatment of suspects revealed that while China introduced laws to curb violence towards detainees, torture was still routine in Chinese jails, with police flouting regulations and courts ignoring rules designed to exclude evidence and confessions obtained by mistreatment.
In December 2015, the United Nations Committee Against Torture gave Beijing one year to report back on progress made in implementing key areas of the UN Convention against Torture.
“The Committee remains seriously concerned over consistent reports indicating that the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system, which overly relies on confessions as the basis for convictions,” the committee said.
At the two-day hearing to review China’s record on torture, held for the first time since 2008, China denied it held political prisoners and said torture was banned, to derision from dissidents.
According to witness accounts, it’s those persecuted for their beliefs who are the main targets of the most brutal torture, abuse and killings in China’s correctional facilities.
Some of those who escaped persecution and resettled in Australia after being granted refugee status have shared their shocking stories with news.com.au in a bid to expose the scale and severity of the human rights abuses in China and help bring them to an end.
SLEEP DEPRIVATION AND ISOLATION
Mr Liu had a promising career ahead of him in the field of chemical technology when he was robbed of his freedom and “taken away” to endure the worst years of his life. Life, for him, would never be the same again.
He was a student studying chemical technology at the China University of Petroleum who constantly produced top grades and was well liked by his peers. He was also well known as a Falun Gong practitioner.
Mr Liu said some students who knew that he would graduate and easily secure a career were jealous and so dobbed him into authorities for practising Falun Gong.
He doesn’t speak English but his deeply haunted eyes tell a story that transcends language.
“(Police) caught me without providing any reason, just by finding Falun Gong materials on my computer at the school,” Mr Liu said through a translator.
After he was arrested, Mr Liu was sent straight to a detention centre where he stayed for one month.
“There was no due process, no interrogation, no procedure followed,” he said.
“When (my sentence) started, I was made to sit on a small stool, a plastic stool, for a long period without moving.
“I was forced to sit there all day and not use any toilet.
“When they saw it was not working (to change my beliefs), they had me stand instead. Stand for a whole day, until my legs were swollen. When that didn’t work, they reduced the hours I slept. “They woke me up by putting a needle into my nails. If you slept for three hours, it became two, then one, then no sleep at all. They would continue torturing you this way until you submit.”
Mr Liu was eventually locked in an isolation cell for one year. He said it was the same belief that landed him in the labour camp that helped him through his darkest days.
“I was trying to stick to the principles of truth, compassion and tolerance and not act with any hatred or violence,” he said.
“At that time my major fear was that I couldn’t really withstand the torture and abuses and that I would give up.”
Mr Liu said that in the end he “couldn’t stand it anymore” so agreed to sign a statement declaring he would stop practising Falun Gong.
“I didn’t really give up,” he said.
“The one thing that helped me get through without dying is that I wanted to expose such atrocities.”
Falun Gong practitioner Hongbin Lin, 43, was a naval officer in the Chinese military who went from “heaven to hell” when he was persecuted for his spiritual beliefs.
He spent one and a half years in a forced labour camp, despite not being charged or convicted of any crimes. Upon his release from detention he wrote “Falun Gong is good” on a banner in 2002.
It was a move that would lead to him being charged with “damaged law enforcement” and sentenced to six years in prison.
Mr Lin said he went to trial after the second arrest but that he had no hope of being set free because lawyers representing Falun Gong practitioners “aren’t allowed to plead innocence” on behalf of their clients in China. Several lawyers who have entered a plea of innocence for Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested and detained.
“There’s no freedom of expression in China,” Mr Lin said.
Mr Lin said he endured electric shocks while in captivity at the hands of prison authorities. He said criminal inmates were made to help the guards persecute Falun Gong practitioners.
“After my third day in prison, because I refused to admit that I’ve committed a crime, the prison guards started to torture me through various methods, such as shocking me with their electric batons,” he said.
“There would be two electric batons, two policemen, with criminals surrounding me. They pressed me down, stepped on my legs, some grabbed my arms, twisting them behind my back. “(One of them) pressed me on the floor, with both of my legs stepped on by 10 plus people. “Then they shocked me on my head, face, and lower body. They shocked me until their batons ran out of power.
“After shocking me, shackling me to the iron bedframe and depriving me of sleep which lasted up to 15 days at one stretch.”
Mr Lin slept next to a toilet for about a year. His living space “was narrower than a chair, about 1-2m long”.
“I was often forced to lie on the ground with my hands tied up behind,” he said.
“I felt severely wounded, in both body and soul.”
The guards treated human beings worse than dogs, he said.
“Food is placed on the dirty floor, without tables,” Mr Lin said.
“When we eat, we eat from the floor.
“The police treat the criminals and us as they please, beating us when they feel like it, scolding us when feel like it, humiliating us as they please.
“The police can curse us whenever they want. They can curse and beat us up at any time.”
Mr Lin said he witnessed many other political prisoners being tortured and humiliated during his stint behind bars.
“One of the supervisors of the prison ward, in front of many prisoners (made another prisoner) take off all his clothes and abused him in public, exposing him in the sunshine as a way of humiliation because he felt he didn’t do enough labour work,” Mr Lin said.
“I felt there was no safety or security. I was quite desperate. The Communist Party just doesn’t treat people like human beings and has no humanity so I never knew what the future would hold or what would happen to me the next day.”
Some prisoners were tortured to death, he said.
“I feel so different in Australia, in a free country,” he said.
“Where people don’t even want to hurt animals and there’s respect for people, human beings.
“In China, there’s no respect for human rights and dignity.”
Chang Zhi Yue, 78 was an electro engineer in an aeronautic department and a painter when she was arrested for practising Falun Gong. She was detained for four years in Beijing Women’s Jail where she suffered extreme torture and abuse, despite never being charged or convicted of any crimes.
“In prison, I suffered multiple times lengthy torture in a variety of ways,” she told news.com.au.
“Nine policemen tortured me for five hours resulting in multiple fractures of vertebrae, such as cervical spine fractures, lumbar spine deformed and protruding to the left and anterior, and a deformed pelvis.
“A man suddenly came up, grabbed me and forced me on the floor. They beat me, forcefully beat me, and they twisted my hands until … they would strike your teeth.
“Someone pressed me on the floor, then lifted me until I was sitting, then spread my legs apart.
“My legs will not naturally open that wide, so they had a few people pull my legs apart at the same time, pulling, pressing, stepping on my legs.
“That time, I heard a ‘crack, crack’ sound, that was a bone in my hip breaking. After that, the bone in my back broke.
“Later on, he asked me when I was nearly unconscious whether I would still continue practising (Falun Gong).”
Fengying Zhang, 66, was abducted from her home and sent to a detention centre followed by a labour camp for practising Falun Gong in 2013. She was never charged or convicted of any crimes.
Mz Zhang said she went on a hunger strike after three days to protest her imprisonment.
“I was force-fed twice in the year 2000 when I went on hunger strike,” Ms Zhang told news.com.au.
“That time when they force-fed me, there were four people, two of them held my head, while two of them stepped on my legs. They had me face the sky, and started force-feeding me, and I started choking.
“They were especially brutal, when he inserted the tube, he did not do it slowly. He forced it in through the nose, down to my stomach. If the tube went the wrong way, it could pierce the lung.
“I choked and coughed out yellow liquid, until my neck was covered with it.
“After they were finished, I felt like I was suffocated and on the verge of death.
“They started force-feeding me daily after that.”
This investigation is the first in a three-part series to appear on news.com.au. Read Part 2 about China’s secret brainwashing centres, where political prisoners are forced to watch videos containing propaganda until they agree to change their beliefs. Part 3 looks at forced medical testing, where inmates are tested and killed for their organs.
By Megan Palin