A Grassroots Dissident’s Brief Account of Prison Mistreatment

Yuan Fengchu, November 18, 2020

Yuan Fengchu (袁奉初) is a dissident and activist from Chibi, Hubei (湖北赤壁). Because of his activities mostly in Guangdong during 2010-2013 as part of the “Southern Street Movement,” he was jailed twice, spending seven years of the last seven and a half years in prison, free for only four months between two prison terms. He was most recently released in October. – The Editors

Yuan Fengchu in Chibi Detention Center in July, 2013, where he said he was treated fairly well. Photo taken by his lawyer lawyer.

It has been more than a month since I was released from prison. The Fifth Plenary Session of the CCP Central Committee was held more than half a month ago. Given the current harsh political environment and other personal reasons, I have kept quiet since my release, and said nothing about the torture I suffered during my time in jail. Now I feel that it is necessary to describe it in writing as it weighs on me. I owe myself, as well as our time, a proper account of it, so as to give myself some peace.

Drawn to democratic ideas, I became a democracy activist. Starting 2011, I took part in the rights defense activism in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and other cities in the south along with other like-minded friends.

In January, 2013, under the leadership of Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), many people, including Yuan Xiaohua (袁小华), Liu Yuandong (刘远东) and myself, protested outside the Southern Weekend against censorship of the famed newspaper [over its New Year’s editorial in 2013]. The incident later caused an uproar as protesters grew in numbers to over a thousand participants over several days who circulated flyers, gave speeches calling for political freedoms. Afterwards, the plainclothes police broke into our rental home and beat us up.

In April 2013, under the initiative of Guo Feixiong, I teamed up with colleagues in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Hengyang, Zhuzhou, Yueyang, Changsha, Wuhan and other places where we pulled banners on streets and gave speeches. We demanded that the National People’s Congress ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that government officials disclose their assets. Wherever we were, a large number of citizens stopped to watch.

In May 2013, Yuan Xiaohua, Chen Jianxiong (陈剑雄) and I were arrested. I was sentenced to four years in prison, while Yuan three and a half years and Chen two years and eight months.  Guo Feixiong, the initiator of the Southern Weekend protest and the “eight city flash demonstration” were sentenced to six years in prison. I was released in May 2017.

While in custody, I was repeatedly subject to beating, physical punishment, and mistreatment. One time I was severely hit on the head by a death row prisoner, and I still have headaches from time to time. Another time, I was beaten by a cell boss, resulting in seven stitches on my face and my eyes going nearly blind.

Yuan Fengchu and Chen Jianxiong (right) in front of Chibi Public Security Bureau in 2017 during the few months when they were free.

After being released from prison in 2017, Chen Jianxiong and I were surveilled and harassed constantly by local stability maintenance personnel. We couldn’t take it anymore, went to complain with the relevant officials, and got into an argument with them. Neither party was happy. Meanwhile, we continued to express our political views online. Only four months out of prison, I was once again incarcerated and sentenced to another three years. Chen Jianxiong was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

For the two years in Chibi Detention Center, I was treated fairly. The management of this Detention Center is now quite civilized. Everything was fine except that there was a lot of dust and no protective gears when prisoners worked on folding “gold ingots” – paper currency for the dead.

I entered Xianning Prison in Hubei [after two years in the detention center] the second time, and its management was worse than before. The torture used on Jianxiong and myself became more severe. I witnessed Chen Jianxiong being beaten by the cell boss and was unable to help him because I was not in the same cell with Jianxiong.

I myself was routinely beaten, corporally punished, and mistreated. I couldn’t bear their torture and fought back fiercely, criticizing them for violating my human rights and torturing me mentally and physically, and then I hit the wall and tried to commit suicide. Because of my resistance and suicide attempt, they immediately tied my hands and feet with restraining bands and hung me on a window. Then they held a prison-wide assembly denouncing me as a “counter-revolutionary,” being “anti-Party and anti-government,” and for refusing to “plead guilty and submit to the law.” Other prisoners were ordered not to interact with me, or face punishment. Those who reported my “reactionary words and deeds” could earn points towards reducing their own sentences.

I was hung on an iron frame bed at night. Because of the tight handcuffs, I kept groaning and at times screaming in pain. When the “cell boss” saw this, he slapped me hard. He also stuffed my mouth with smelly socks and a rag to prevent me from screaming. The prison guard came over, looked on with cold eyes, and said that “this was what you get for being anti-Party,” and then left.

During the day, I still had to work with other prisoners. It was about 400 meters from the cell to the production workshop. Because my hands and feet were tied up, I could only leapfrog. Seeing that I was slow to keep up with others, the prison guards asked other prisoners to push me ahead. Because my limbs were tied up and I couldn’t stand firmly, I fell over and got bruises all over.

After arriving in the workshop, they hung me on a window for the entire day. Because their intention was to hurt me, the restraint straps were tied very tightly, and it was the coldest days of the year, just as the coronavirus outbreak was beginning. My hands swelled like steamed buns due to lack of blood circulation. My pain was such that I screamed non-stop, my teeth grinding involuntarily. They then wrapped my mouth with adhesive tape to prevent me from screaming.

The prison guard turned a deaf ear, mocking me, “We’ll see if you still dare go against the Communist Party.” I said that they were lynching me in violation of the law and human rights. Enraged, the prison guard sprayed chili spray at me. I couldn’t open my watering eyes. I was sneezing, temporarily blinded, and no words could describe the pain.

During this period, they gave me two scoops of jail food every day and no vegetables. The purpose was not to starve me to death. At the time, life seemed worse than death, so I went on a hunger strike. They then force-fed me, and my mouth was bleeding as a result of them trying to pry it open. Because forced feeding was very painful, I later agreed to eat, but they didn’t feed me full, still just giving two spoonfuls of rice. During this period of time, because I didn’t eat and drink much, I had constipation, and once, I excreted a large pool of blood. Even though I had always had blood stool, this time was most severe.

This regime of torture lasted for seven days. During those seven days, it can be said that every minute and every second was horrific suffering. After seven days, I was relieved of the restraining belt, and my hands were mostly stiff and numb, unable to move, swollen like a bun, and unresponsive to touch. Until today, most of my palms are still numb and stiff, and have lost normal functions.

The seven days of hellish life left a deep mark in my heart. Those seven days have allowed me to see clearly the ugliness in the world, and the evil of autocracy.

Freed from the restraining belt, I was assigned to work on a sewing machine to make clothes. Due to the loss of normal function of my hands, which were stiff and inflexible, I couldn’t complete the work quota assigned to me — many normal prisoners could not complete the tasks assigned to them, let alone me with my severely injured hands. For failing to complete the tasks, I was physically punished and verbally insulted by guards and the cell boss every day. During the day I worked at the workshop. At noon break, other prisoners rested while I was ordered to stand up straight. In the evenings, other prisoners went to sleep early while I either had to stand or squat on the floor until 11:30 p.m. I was then pulled up at 5:30 a.m. to stand again. The breakfast was half a bun, and lunch and dinner were two spoonfuls of rice respectively. It was hell on earth.

It is only with strong perseverance that I survived such harsh treatment, finally reached the end of my prison term, and made it out alive.

But after being released from prison, I didn’t feel any freedom of movement. The harassing phone calls from police occur every day, and they visit me once every few days for photographed and recorded interviews. Two surveillance cameras with light bulbs were mounted outside my home and only recently removed after much negotiation. Watchers are stationed outside the door, and when I leave home someone will film me. Relatives and friends are tapped to brainwash me, while neighbors give me strange looks. The police station also drew my blood, collected my fingerprints, cut my hair, checked my handwriting, and put together a DNA file of me, saying that I am a dangerous person, need to be specifically monitored, and so on. All of these have made my daily life miserable.

Today I write down all these not to cause any more trouble than I already have, definitely not to slander anyone on purpose. It is intended to clarify the facts and restore the truth, so that the world will know how a law-abiding citizen was brutalized for exercising his civil and political rights. What I have gone through is just an example of why the judiciary in China contravenes the Constitution and laws, and is merely a tool for political persecution and violation of human rights and dignity.

Translated from 袁奉初:二次入狱蒙难简述

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