Meeting reveals torture and sexual abuse on large scale, human rights group claims
By Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
GENEVA / BUDAPEST (ANS) -- Persecuted Chinese House Church leaders, including tortured and sexually abused women, have for the first time testified at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights amid claims that the Beijing government is increasing pressure on unregistered churches and active believers, ASSIST News Service (ANS) learned Monday April 5.
The Christian Aid Association (CAA), which investigates the plight of persecuted Christians, said a two-hour hearing held Friday, April 2, at the 60th annual meeting of the U.N. Commission in Geneva was aimed at showing the suffering of some of at least 8,903 Chinese believers who it claims were arrested and detained in the last 10 years.
Armed with documents and a video recording of recently released female prisoners, the CAA painted a grim picture of Communist China's attitude towards active Christians. As an example CAA President Bob Fu said that feared Chinese security forces used torture as a weapon to gather "false evidence" against a pastor of the rapidly growing evangelical South China Church.
"At least three believers were tortured to death, many men and women believers were tortured and many, especially women, were sexually abused and molested during their interrogation to obtain false evidence against Pastor Gong,” he told the U.N. Commission, according to a transcript obtained by the ANS Central and Eastern Europe Bureau in Budapest.
He said that Pastor Gong Shengliang was accused of having raped 15 female members of his church, but that in a retrial the "so-called rape victims" were reduced to four unnamed persons. In addition the so-called "hard" evidence against the pastor "mysteriously disappeared," he added.
The U.N. Commission was shown a video containing testimonies from the recently released women prisoners, which the CAA said "shows more evidence of how coerced confessions were taken from these female members in extreme and inhuman torture including numerous cases of sexual abuse."
Three South China Church officials, who were among 15 women originally interrogated, claimed in video interviews that they were forced into accusing the pastor of false rape charges.
"They questioned me for about a month. When I didn’t answer them, they would use different kinds of ways to torture me. For instance, they hung my two hands up on the door frame, and my feet couldn’t touch the floor," said one of them, identified as 35-year old Cao Hongmei, who was jailed from August 2001 till August 2003 on charges of "intentionally harming others."
"My hands and shoulder became numb. They used a sharpened bamboo stick to beat my hands and shoulder. I couldn’t bear this tremendous pain any more so I began to scream, but they didn’t allow me to do so. They threatened me, "If you keep on shouting, we will stuff your mouth and make you shut up," she added, according to a video transcript obtained by ANS.
"Every time they hung me, it would last at least half an hour, sometimes even one hour. All together, they have hung me about a whole day," she recalled. "They also threatened me, saying, "We can beat you to death, and throw you into the Han River, or dig a hole somewhere to bury you. Who will question us about that? You count for nothing. They went on to say, “Don’t you know? A South China Church believer has been beaten to death by the police in Zhong Xiang, just because she kept silent and didn’t confess. After her death, nobody has come to us asking for an account. So we also can beat you to death, because you little believers count for nothing.”
"All they wanted from me was a false testimony. They said, "If you just confess according to what we tell you, I will release you and let you go." Because she kept silent, the Chinese security forces soon used other torture techniques, she claimed.
"They used handcuffs to pound my fingers. One of them would hold my elbow, and the other one used a pair of handcuffs to hammer my fingers. My fingers began to bleed and my fingernails began to break but they were not fully satisfied. Then they used a cigarette lighter to burn my fingers. All my fingernails had been burned, and you still can see the scars here. My middle fingernail was totally broken, and this is the newly grown one. Not only did they burn my fingernails, they also use the lighter to burn my ears, my face, and my lips. They used all these tortures forcing me to confess that I had (a) sexual relationship with Pastor Gong Shengliang."
Another South China Church leader, 33-year old Liu Xianzhi, was jailed and in a labor camp from May, 2001 till February this year on charges "organizing and using evil cult organization to obstruct the implementation of the law,." CAA said. She recalled the horrors of sexual abuse and torture in the video presentation shown to the U.N. Commission.
On one occasion she was "taken to Zhongxiang Police Training Center (where) six or seven male policemen started to question me in their dormitory. One asked me, "Do you know why we arrest you?" I said, "Because I believe in Jesus." He slapped my face when he heard this. He said, "Do you know what age we are in today? And you still believe in Jesus?" I didn’t answer him back."
The young woman added she was "put in shackles and the policemen" and that they ordered her to walk before them in the room. "The shackles were heavy; after a little while I had to slow down, but they wouldn’t let me. They pushed me from this side to the other side while laughing at me. I was so exhausted and ended up laying on the ground. The shackles also cut deeply into my flesh, and my ankle began to bleed. You can see the scar here," she showed, according to a video transcript.
"They also picked me up by my hair, so the weight of my whole body was held up by my hair. I could hardly breathe, then they put me down, but kept on pressuring me to confess I had sexual relationship with Pastor Gong. When I told them I didn’t have any improper relationship with him, they pulled my hair again, later I lost my consciousness. When I refused to read the confession that they had prepared for me beforehand, they threatened me by saying, "Now, I can beat you to death, and pull you out and bury you somewhere, that even your family wouldn’t know where you are. Now your South China Church is in our hands, including your pastor. He was also arrested!"
When she told the police she had no sexual relationship with Pastor Gong "they used an electrical rod" to beat her. She said the police beat her on her head, her breast, and buttock. "I was knocked to the floor, then they pulled me up and tore my clothes open. They even pulled my bra, and I cried." Her South China Church colleague, 29 year old Meng Xicun was arrested in May 2001 and only released in February from a labor camp after being charged with "organizing and using evil cult organization to obstruct the implementation of the law" and undergoing torture sessions.
She recalled how when was initially forced to stand five days and five nights and that when she was tired and fell asleep police would beat her. They allegedly also insulted the young woman. "They flicked their cigarette ash into my collar. Later they untied my shirt, and flicked the cigarette ash to my breast. I felt so humiliated, I didn’t understand why they treated me like this."
Meng Xicun said that often several men took turns to beat her and that her body became bruised and later started beating her with a high- voltage electrical rod.
When she still refused to accuses her pastor of rape "several policemen came in" and pushed her to the ground. "They dragged me around in the room by pulling my hair. One police kicked me on my stomach and my waist. Even today I still feel the pain. I lost my consciousness seven times. One time when I re-gained consciousness, I heard one police talking to another saying, "Don’t waste our time. After all, the South China Church is in our hands, we will make sure Gong Shengliang gets a death sentence. Why don’t we just get her fingerprint now? "But the other police said, "This won’t work. Let’s use cold water to wake her up."
When that did not work and she refused to sign "a written testimony by themselves" a policeman reportedly said: "You have tasted the good treatment minutes ago, now we will have better ones for you." Then "they started another round of torturing me. This time, they tore my clothes and bra, using electrical rod to touch my breast and jab my other private place. I couldn’t bear this kind of humiliation. How could I? I could bear other kind of tortures, but not this one, I felt like I had broken down."
Police officials allegedly told her that she would "die in vain, because nobody knows where you are, and we can just bury you somewhere, even your family won’t know. You know, we can just make you disappear, and we don’t have to take any responsibility for that.” At the end her "hands were trembling at their dictation." And "my heart was struggling, because I knew this would be the so –called evidence which the police would use to accuse Pastor Gong Shengliang. It’s not fair to him at all, " she said.
"But I had no other choice in that situation, I kept on writing down what the police instructed me. When I finished, I couldn’t stand still, I lost consciousness. It was too painful for me to accuse an innocent man, because Pastor Gong is a good man, he has never done such a thing... But the police were determined to put him to death as a rapist based on the coerced testimony. After I finished, I had no desire for life any more. I felt like I had already died by doing this. But it is too late, the police had already got what they wanted to accuse Pastor Gong.”
The revelations of the young women came as the U.N. prepared to investigate torture in China. CAA said it hopes the investigations will help the estimated 80 million members of house church groups and churches across China. CAA claimed it has a document from China's Religious Affairs Bureau, of Qingdao City, Shandong province showing that the Chinese government intensified a campaign against innocent, unregistered churches and their believers since the end of 2002. It suggests that "Those who are deeply affected by self-proclaimed preachers, oppose patriotic religious bodies and defy the government’s administration shall be "educated" and "transformed through compulsory study of the government’s religious policy and regulations."
The founder of China's largest Christian movement, Pastor Peter Xu Yongze and dubbed ‘the Billy Graham of China’, was arrested and imprisoned five times for over seven years in China and experienced severe torture and persecution. He told the U.N. gathering in Geneva that "Christians in China desire to live respectful and law abiding lives. Christians have been recognized as being a force for social stability and respect fort the law. Yet they continue to be persecuted for simply adhering to their faith according to their consciences. We do not seek confrontation and we are patriotic to our nation. All we ask is to be able to practice our faith freely. "
Pastor Peter Xu urged the Chinese government to stop all kinds of religious persecution for all believers and to release all prisoners of conscience including the Chinese House Church historian Mr. Zhang Yinan. Zhang was arrested on September 26, 2003 and sentenced for two-year re-education through labor on October 27, 2003 by the authority of Pingdingshan City, Henan province on charges of an “attempt to subvert the national government."
The latest crackdown on especially evangelical Christians have been linked to concern among Communist authorities about the growing number of Christians in China, which analysts say is experiencing the fastest church growth in the world. There was no official reaction on the latest reports, but the Chinese government has said it is only acting against "dangerous cults."
Friday's U.N. meeting was chaired by Lord Chan of Oxton, Member of the British Parliament, House of Lords, Chairman of Chinese in Britain National Forum and Chairman of the Chinese Overseas Christian Mission, CAA said Among other speakers were renowned human rights campaigner Harry Wu, a Catholic, also spoke on the issue of religious persecution in China.