Chinese Christians describe torture at camps
Christians and other minorities battle state-sponsored persecution
In 2018, Li Yuese spent 10 months locked inside a windowless room in a facility run by the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. Officials at the “transformation” center beat and tortured him, Li told Radio Free Asia. “I could not sleep,” he said. “After you’ve been in there a week, death starts to look better than staying there.”
Authorities detained him during a crackdown on a house church in the southwestern Sichuan province. Li, who goes by a pseudonym, is one of several Christians reportedly held in brainwashing camps because of their faith. Some have compared their detention to the ongoing crackdown on Uighur minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
Li said officials and plainclothes workers from the United Front Work Department held the prisoners in a basement in a secret location. Many of them, he said, were arrested for church-related activities that didn’t warrant criminal prosecution.
People who refused to “admit their mistakes” were taken into solitary confinement for extended periods. Li said suicide attempts were common at the facility: “I bashed myself against the wall to self-harm.”
China has continued to crack down on unregistered churches in an effort to “Sinicize” or reshape religion to support the Chinese Communist Party. Authorities criminally detained Zhang Chunlei, an elder at Love (Ren’ai) Reformed Church in the southwest Guizhou province, after raiding a retreat at a privately rented property earlier in March.
Beijing has also engaged in systematic oppression in Xinjiang, where some 1 million Uighur Muslims are reportedly in reeducation camps. Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom joined the European Union last month to impose sanctions on senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang.
A lawyer in the northern Hebei province who went only by Zhang told Radio Free Asia that he represented several Catholics detained at a similar facility in the city of Baoding. “After the religious affairs officials had arrested the bishops and priests, they didn’t pursue criminal charges—they just disappeared them, sometimes for five, six, or even 10 years at a stretch,” he said. “These brainwashing places were similar to the ones used on the Falun Gong.” Falun Gong is a banned spiritual movement in China based on Buddhism and qigong exercises.
China Aid President Bob Fu told me he has received individual reports of Christians who endure such experiences but said he has not seen evidence yet suggesting a systemic targeting similar to supporters of the Falun Gong movement or in Xinjiang.
He recalled the case of a young Christian in his 20s who was seized by authorities in Beijing and tortured in a similar facility. “He made three attempted suicides,” Fu said.
The repression has had a chilling effect on Christian communities, he said: “Even talking about their cases would be a punishable offense, from a warning to administrative or criminal offense.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed off on legislation that would allow him to lead for two more six-year terms. His current term would end in 2024.
Putin proposed constitutional changes to presidential term limits last year. Some 78 percent of Russian voters backed the proposal in a nationwide referendum. The decision could see Putin lead the country until 2036. He is Russia’s longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Putin argued the decision would allow his lieutenants to focus on their work without worrying about their successors. —O.O.
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