On May 9, 2016, imprisoned and ailing rights activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄)(pen name of Yang Maodong, (杨茂东)) began a hunger strike to protest degrading treatment in prison that included the video recording of a forced physical exam, which prison authorities threatened to post online. Guo’s repeated requests for transfer out of Yangchun Prison to a facility where he could receive appropriate medical treatment have been ignored.
Over the past three months—during which he has been subjected to forced feeding—his deteriorating health condition has received increasing international attention, including that of five UN experts who issued an appeal on August 4 urging the Chinese authorities to stop all forms of ill-treatment of Guo.
In his essay, “The Hellish Scene Behind Guo Feixiong’s Wishes,” lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟)—who himself had suffered years of torture and abuses for legal defence of vulnerable groups— begins with Guo Feixiong’s wishes when he was being transferred to prison after being convicted in November 2015. Gao also shares his own experience in prison in this piercing view of a system that he calls “a wrongfully-convicted person’s worst nightmare.”
Guo Feixiong will soon be transferred to a prison again. His sister, after visiting him, conveyed his wishes: “I demand that in prison, [I] will have books to read, won’t have to kneel down, won’t be forced to perform labour, and won’t be beaten.” He also said that if he is subjected to torture and torment again, he will go on a hunger strike and ask that his wife “take their son and daughter to go on a hunger strike in front of the United Nations.” Guo’s sister also said, “Back in 2007, when Guo Feixiong was first admitted to the Meizhou Prison, a prison guard ordered him to squat with his hands behind his head, but Guo refused. The prison guard then directed another detainee to beat Guo Feixiong up, kicking him down the staircase and sending him rolling on the floor. The prison management personnel didn’t intervene until the 200-plus inmates present began hooting. The attacker stopped only after being warned that he might actually kill someone.”
Throwing a guiltless intellectual brimming with positive outlook and good wishes for his country and people into prison in this age of darkness—this alone is an assault on conscience and justice. Let alone forcing him to kneel down and perform labour, and savagely beating him up.
Feixiong experienced prison and torture before. And the bitter past experience forms the psychological basis for his demands. For a legitimate government with any sense of morality and responsibility, demands such as not kneeling down, not being forced to perform labour, and not being beaten would mortify the people who make up this government, would make many responsible citizens feel that their sense of justice has been barbarously offended, and would set in motion a series of corresponding internal inquiries and remedial efforts. However, this is happening in a Communist Party of China-ruled China, where people have long regarded atrocious human rights violations as everyday occurrences. In post-1949 China, these incidents often fall into complete silence and obscurity just like arrows shot into the ocean. Chronic helplessness breeds a terrifying capacity among the populace—to remain indifferent to any sort of brutalities that others suffer. And it forms a tacit pact among all to tolerate the crimes committed by an evil dictatorship, thus intensifying and nourishing the dictatorship’s impunity. Friedrich von Hayek believed that authoritarian regimes “were established by groups of blackguards and thugs.” Psychologically, I thought I was fully prepared for the barbarity and evil of CPC prisons. But after having actually spent time behind bars, I couldn’t help but lament how limited my imagination was.
The prisons are lands of desolation devoid of humanity and the human concept of rule of law. Structurally speaking, this is an inevitable result of exercising absolute power under absolutely no supervision. On the other hand, the prisons are an institution designed by the anti-human, terrorist CPC regime for the systematic, specialised, and large-scale cleansing away of humanity and the deliberate cultivation of collective fear. The prison system’s key technical core is the success rate of forced reform, a yardstick against which the performances of all prison institutions and their personnel are evaluated. Every year, a fixed quota of successful cases of reform is assigned to every institution and individual employee, and that quota is used to determine an individual employee or institution’s capability, promotional prospect, and size of rewards. Results are the only things that matter, and there are practically no restraints as to what means are used to achieve those results. Over time, bloody violence becomes the only means to reach the goal. Everyone becomes a component of this bloody mechanism and is required to play a functional role, with no possibility of keeping oneself unsullied.
The deepest impressions that CPC prisons left on me include those of the ancient, primitive-looking leg irons (I was unable to move at all the entire day; at the end of the first day, the pain in my ankles was unbearable); the cruel electric shock torture administered to prisoners; the extreme exhaustion from being deprived of rest time even on Sundays; the endless servings of boiled cabbages; and the feeling of suffocation from the lack of oxygen and gloom in the solitary confinement cell. Most unforgettable were the electric shock torture and arbitrary beating the prisoners had to endure when being forcefully reformed. (I must stress here that these are not issues unique to Shayar Prison—they are simply systemic.) The arbitrariness of whom they would beat up was clear: they just picked the names [of the targets] randomly from the roster.
At the rapid blasts of whistles and a sharp yell of “Stand in line,” a nerve-wracking din of footsteps would echo throughout the entire building. Next up, those whose names were called were berated and then pulled out from the line-up for brutal beating. This would repeat several times a day. I was never called on, but it was frightening enough to just listen as the cruelty descended on others. But in time, I finally got used to it and my feelings grew numb.
All barbarous regimes in history have one characteristic in common: they are completely oblivious to the differences and complexities among individual human beings. Instead, they treat people as machinery that can be standardised, and use mechanical means to achieve standardisation. This subsequently leads to situations of unnecessary conflict and, ultimately, the outright reliance on cruel, anti-human measures.
In a certain sense, inmates in a CPC prison are all political prisoners. It has refined prisoner reform into nearly 100 concrete benchmarks, the first of which is that the prisoners must embrace the “Four Basic Principles,” and embrace the eternal leadership status of the CPC. Nothing else matters if a prisoner does not meet this first condition. Political prisoners and “evil cult” inmates, etc., have greatly suffered because of this requirement. Another nonnegotiable is that they must admit their crimes and submit themselves to the law. This is the gateway to hell for the wrongfully convicted, as everyone knows that this reactionary justice system produces numerous wrongful convictions every year. And the prison is a wrongfully-convicted person’s worst nightmare. The first order of business during the first three months of imprisonment is admitting guilt. Who knows how many times wrongfully convicted prisoners have died in the process.
When I first entered prison, in order to minimise conflicts, I promised to comply with the supervision and management regulations on the condition that I wouldn’t admit guilt. But on January 4, 2012, during a mandatory sitting session, I stood up and starting pacing rapidly inside the solitary confinement cell. It was because they were using electric shocks on people again. As a victim of the same thing previously, I knew it the instant I heard it. This was the fourth time I had heard this in just a little over half a month after arriving in the prison. In protest, I stopped complying with the supervision and management regulations. They realised what was going on. Ma Bing asked me the moment he entered the solitary confinement cell, “You heard something. Didn’t you?” “This is the fourth time that I heard it,” I answered. We had a clash of words, and very quickly someone called him away.
Among all the prison officers to whom I protested and raised the issue of the routine use of electric shocks on prisoners, Mr. Enwer, the Chief of the Sixteenth Prison District, was the only one to adamantly deny the existence of such practice. All the other officers—including Deputy Prison Chief Mr. Ma, Education Division Chief Mr. Kang, Prison Politics Division Chief Mr. Xu, and Criminal Law Implementation Division Chief Mr. Li—would remain stone-faced and silent to my protests or reports. (Only Deputy Prison Chief Ma, biting his lower lip while listening to me, said after a pause, “As a matter of reason, we should handle things in accordance with the law.” But it was Officer Gao Jianjun’s question for me later that revealed how little control grassroots-level administrators really have. He said, “Old Gao, the superiors gave us a quota for prisoner reform success. There’s definitely no way to achieve that without getting tough. What do you think we should do?” Those may not have been his exact words, but that was basically what he said.)
In a conversation I had with Division Chief Mr. Kang prior to my release, he asked about my impression of the prison. I replied, “Compared with being detained by the military, this is a nice hell.” The prison management personnel didn’t give me a hard time on things that they had control over. There was only one time—on December 21, 2011, when I refused to squat as they ordered—when they put a black hood over my head. Someone came over and pressed my shoulders down but failed to make me squat. He stopped after someone nearby said something in Uyghur to him. For others, squatting with their hands behind their heads was part of the daily routine there.
As for being forced to kneel down, I experienced it several times in the black jails run by the CPC terrorist organisation. To get me to kneel down, they would spend hours working on me every single time. It often ended up with me falling to the floor after being severely beaten and then getting held up by two officers to assume a kneeling position. All of this was just to give the officers some despicable satisfaction of final “victory.”
The CPC is still “honest” in certain respects. For example, it has not ratified the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, does not formulate concrete laws on freedom of press, and shies away from setting up a judicial review system to examine violations of the Constitution. The CPC has a clear understanding of its true nature—just like applying the same temperature to an egg and a rock would produce different results, the government’s ratifying of the ICCPR doesn’t mean that it will allow Chinese citizens expanded civil and political rights. If the CPC can scorn a constitution it itself has formulated, as if it were worn out shoes, what’s the use in ratifying an international covenant? But does not ratifying relevant covenants mean that the CPC can just trample on fundamental human rights and dignity with no regard for the law? As the world’s largest rogue regime, even if you don’t ratify the relevant covenants on political and human rights, you, as a member state of the United Nations, can never escape your responsibilities regarding your citizens’ political and human rights.
The Charter of the United Nations lists the following as among the goals of the United Nations:
- “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person” (“Preamble”),
- “promot[e] and encourage[e] respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all” (Art. 1.3), and
- [promote] “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” (Art. 55.c).
If a group of people would rather risk their own demise than acknowledge the rights human beings uniquely enjoy, then they don’t even deserve to be human beings themselves, let alone leaders of a country. As someone completely disillusioned with the authorities, I don’t really agree with Feixiong’s declaration to go on a hunger strike should he be tortured and tormented again in prison. Protest is something that takes place in human society and therefore has nothing to do with animals. I oppose even more the idea of making his wife “take their son and daughter to go on a hunger strike in front of the United Nations.” First, this is detrimental to the children’s physical and psychological development. Second, nowadays, certain Western politicians and business groups, typically those in the United Kingdom and the United States, have long come to share the spoils of the CPC terrorists’ brutal human rights abuses. Protesting in front of them is like casting pearls before swine.
On the premise of faithfully relying on God, the realistic hope of changing China lies within us, and only us. This is something we must be clear about. The number one priority now is protecting our children and ourselves and finding the connections between our hearts and the love of God.
I hereby give another solemn warning to those CPC terrorists who, unlike Xi Jinping and his followers, may still understand human speech: You should think about your future and the future of your family. Failure to heed my repeated advice will bring you futile regrets in the future!
When I was detained in a secret spot ordered by Zhou Yongkang, I made a prediction to someone dispatched by Zhou and said, “He (meaning Zhou) will die in a prison.” He scolded me, “Old Gao, have you lost your mind from being locked up? Zhou is dubbed the Ninth Iron-Cap Prince. Do you know what that means? Can you even believe what you are saying?” We all know what happened next. When I was in Shayar Prision, I predicted that Xie Hui, then Director of Xinjiang’s Department of Justice and Prison Management Bureau Chief, would definitely go to jail. One of the deputy division chiefs ridiculed and angrily rebuked me, “Old Gao, the things you say will only make others despise you.” But as it turned out, “leading comrade” Xi Hui was indeed imprisoned in 2015.
On May 26, 2012, I went ahead and submitted a letter to the prison authorities, predicting that in the end of 2017, Hu Jintao and other criminals in the terrorist organisation called the CPC will all be tried at a special tribunal of China set up at that time. I had this prediction in writing as proof. It was intended as a reminder to those who still have some humanity left in them to be cautious about their future. One day, when they finally wake up to the truth of these words, the fools will be left to endless regrets!
February 4, 2016 at my hometown village
Translation by Human Rights in China.