IV. ZHANG KUNLUN -- AN ILLUSTRATIVE CASE 155
Zhang Kunlun, a dual citizen of Canada and China, was detained four times in China between June 30, 2000 and his final release on January 10, 2001 for being a Falungong practitioner.156 The last arrest on November 14, 2000 resulted in his being sentenced administratively to a reeducation through labor term. He has said that he was never officially told the length of his sentence, but he thought it was for three years. With a 900-person Canadian trade delegation due to visit China in February 2001, camp authorities released Zhang less than two months into his term after he allegedly renounced his belief in Falungong. As described in detail below, Zhang's case illustrates important themes running through China's response to the Falungong "threat" and Falungong's response to China's repression.
Mr. Zhang, accompanied by his wife, Zhang Shumei, and two daughters, left China for Canada in 1989 to take up a one-year visiting scholarship invitation from McGill University for research in sculpture. After his scholarship ended, he elected to stay on to work professionally as a sculptor and to become a Canadian citizen. Qigong had been a part of Zhang's and his wife's routine before they left China. In February 1996, after a visit there to see her ailing mother, Zhang Shumei brought Falungong materials back to Canada. Feeling that "Falungong was better than other qigong," the couple switched.
In April 1996, a family emergency in China required that Zhang and his wife immediately travel there. Rather than wait for visa applications to be processed, they used their Chinese passports. For personal reasons, the family decided to stay in China, settling in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province. Zhang continued to sculpt and to pursue his research interests at Shandong Art University, where earlier he had been dean of the art department.
Once back in China permanently, Zhang and his wife practiced with others in public. As Zhang told Human Rights Watch: "There was no trouble...no problems. Falungong was available in almost every park. There was no need to join an organization or tell anyone..." Zhang practiced with a group of forty or fifty, "a mixed group, students, old people, government officials, everyday people, half men, half women." The group met twice a day for an hour each time. "You could go to both or one or the other; you could switch; if you had more time you could go longer... We met outside all four seasons..."
He also said that, "during the peaceful time," as he called the time before the10,000-person April 25, 1999 protest in Beijing, he was not an activist: he did no Falungong organizing, no recruitment of practitioners, or anything else that might draw the attention of the police. Nor did he take part in the April 25 Beijing protest or in major protests in Tianjin several days earlier.
Zhang told Human Rights Watch that "After April 25, soon after that, there was interference at practice sites." He gave several examples, water on site surfaces, or dust and dirt deliberately spread on them, or motor bikes coming close and revving their engines. "It was," he said, "annoying and disturbing and got worse. It was not done directly by the authorities but encouraged by them." But Zhang then acknowledged that he had had no personal experience with these kinds of "annoyances." He had, he said, heard it happened in other places, especially in the suburbs and the countryside with some minor disturbances in Jinan itself.
Zhang sounded as if he proceeded cautiously when the crackdown first started. In response to a question about whether his own practice had changed after the July 22, 1999 ban, he said that "around July, [before the ban] he was very busy with his research work, so hadn't been outside much at all." After the official ban, he occasionally went outside to practice, and "even privately only did the exercises irregularly." Some practitioners did go outside regularly until arrests became "severe." He cited work pressures to explain his reduced practice.
Asked whether he had done anything special that might have drawn police attention to him, Zhang told Human Rights Watch that one time, "when the weather was still hot," (suggesting that it was within a few months after the ban went into effect) he "happened to visit a practitioner's home" and was asked to sign a letter to the Shandong Party Secretary, "requesting him to see for himself that Falungong was good." Some twenty people signed on. Zhang said they particularly wanted him to sign as he was "well-known and respected in the province." He did not know the other signatories. Zhang also acknowledged a visit to his house from a student of his accompanied by a woman from another province. They came to rally support for a presentation to President Jiang Zemin when he visited Shandong. The display was to consist of materials downloaded from a Falungong site. Zhang wasn't home at the time of the visit and his wife left the house briefly to go to the market while the guests were still there. The police later said the visitors had made phone calls from the Zhang's home.
On July 22, 1999, the date the Falungong ban became official, Zhang and another person started for Shandong's provincial headquarters, but were stopped en route by two policemen who, without asking any questions, ordered them to "get on a bus." Basically the police said, "Okay, you want to practice, I'll take you to a place to practice." There was no violence; Zhang and his companion did not resist. They were driven to a schoolyard. Zhang estimates some 2,000 people were there. "The police expected us." The practitioners had to leave their names and addresses;then branch police stations were called to escort them to their home districts.
Zhang said he had no sense that he was being watched, but some months before his first detention and several times while he was in custody, an official from the city's security bureau came to his house for a "casual visit." During the first visit, Zhang and his wife talked to the official "sincerely" about their feelings for Falungong, and they related stories they had heard at "sharing conferences," such as how people had been cured through practice or how judges and police became such good workers after they took up Falungong that they were officially commended. Zhang told Human Rights Watch that he didn't take the visits very seriously.
The first detention came some time after dark on June 30, 2000 (Zhang said it might already have been July 1, he wasn't sure) in connection with flyers he had been distributing about a Falungong radio program made by overseas practitioners and scheduled for broadcast in China on July 1. He had put some hundred flyers in bicycle baskets and handed a few to a man whom the police later questioned. That night, after two uniformed officers searched Zhang's house and confiscated Falungong materials, they took him to the local police station.
Zhang described his treatment. Police officers, he said, were "waiting" for him. Several knocked him to the ground and forced him to listen to a speech by the station chief about Jiang Zemin's characterization of Falungong as an "evil cult." The director went on to say that the police could do what they wanted to cult members. "If you die, we will bury you and tell everyone you committed suicide because you were afraid of a criminal charge." The officers then shocked Zhang with electric batons, threatening that if he screamed they would use them in his mouth. He was beaten on the face; the kicks to his leg took three months to heal. Zhang said he "lost his mind"; he had no idea how long the whole episode lasted, "twenty minutes, a half-hour, longer."
Two days after the beating, the chief escorted Zhang to his office. The electric baton was in its charger, but this time the police chief asked him to sit, and then tried to persuade him to tell the origin of the flyers. A higher-level officer, who replaced the chief, counseled Zhang that it was no use denying he knew nothing; he might as well cooperate. When the chief returned, the long interrogation that followed alternated between persuasion and fierce anger. Zhang reported his reply: "I have never seen policemen use this kind of method. I never believed it when I heard about it before. Now I believe it. It won't work. I'm ready to die. Communist police shouldn't do this." Later, Zhang was told that the chief was ill, and that if he, Zhang, did not tell him what he needed to know, the chief would not be able to finish his work. Zhang was told, "be sympathetic and compassionate." So, he said, he told the chief what he knew without incriminating anyone.
Around midnight, Zhang was escorted to a small room housing five otherpractitioners held for offenses similar to his, copying out information and sharing it with others. A few had downloaded information from the Internet, including Li Hongzhi's articles, and distributed them. All those in the room, including Zhang, were taken out for questioning. Zhang said he was interrogated maybe four more times by three different people. The questions were always the same. Zhang said personally he experienced hardly any more violence, just mood changes on the part of his interrogators. At least once he was hit on the face with a thick book. One of the people in the room, the man to whom Zhang had given a few flyers, said interrogators used electric batons on him on three separate occasions. Zhang was released without explanation on August 3.
The second detention came a few days later and lasted thirty-three hours. Three practitioners had called to say they were coming to see him, a call which probably had been monitored because two police officers arrived on the visitors' heels. Zhang held off the officers, while the visitors escaped through a back door. The officers then called the local police station and determined that Zhang was to report there the following morning, which he did.
Zhang was detained a third time in October 2000. On October 26, the security head at the university called Zhang to say he was needed at the school. Once there, he was told that he could not leave and that someone would be talking with him about Falungong. The following day, Zhang was driven first to the local police station and from there to a school in a small town some forty-five minutes distant for mandatory Falungong "conversion education." The university was forced to pay 10,000 renminbi (approximately U.S.$1,250) for what was scheduled to be a three-month session; he was expected to reimburse the university half the money. "I knew my working place would be annoyed because I don't give up. And my family would feel the same because of the money." If officials determined Zhang was not sufficiently reeducated at the end of the three-month period, in part determined by a written recantation, he would be forced to undergo a second session. Some forty people were "enrolled"; the official plan was to double that number. Police and officers of the People's Armed Police (an armed paramilitary police force with responsibility for controlling social unrest), residence committee and court workers, and even family members helped staff the facility.
On the third day of his stay, Zhang joined other "enrollees" already on a hunger strike. He told Human Rights Watch that one of the program's directors told them angrily, "We're not afraid if you don't eat. We can send you to a mental hospital; we can feed you with liquid food and give you shots." For Zhang, the strike lasted six days, after which he was released. He does not know why, but he did say he was treated better than others in the detention center and thought it was because of how much attention his case had attracted.
On November 13, a local policewoman called Zhang to say she was comingto see him. When she arrived accompanied by the policeman who had detained Zhang back in June, he said he "didn't feel very good." His premonition was accurate; he was ordered to take some clothes and accompany them immediately to the police station. Both officers ignored his and his wife's pleas that he was not fully recovered from his hunger strike. Upon arrival at the station, the policeman told Zhang he was headed for Jinan's labor camp. However, he was refused admission to that camp's first division because he lacked the requisite medical approval from a facility outside the camp. The following day, Zhang was sent instead to the camp's second division where a prison doctor checked his physical condition. When, in reply to the doctor's query, Zhang admitted he still practiced Falungong, the doctor, not unkindly, advised him that if he did not stop "you will probably leave your body here."
Some thirty practitioners were housed at the camp; Zhang was assigned to a cell with three others and four monitors. Practicing, reading, and teaching Falungong were strictly prohibited. In spite of the book of rules given to each new prisoner, an old-timer let the new arrivals know that the "camp did not work without violence."
As Zhang described it to Human Rights Watch, the routine the first few days was simple: wake-up at 6:30; 10-15 minute run in the yard; clean cell, hall, washroom; eat breakfast; sit on low stools in one position, no moving or talking except for bathroom and meal breaks. Several days later, an officer announced that since they had not practiced Falungong while at the camp, and if they would promise not to in the future, they could move to the other end of the building where they would have a little more freedom. Their new quarters housed ten inmates; the prison monitors sometimes left them alone; they could talk. It was here that Zhang heard about prison discipline. The day before, he was told, a prisoner had been badly beaten for doing Falungong exercises. Sympathetic practitioners who began a hunger strike were also beaten. Zhang saw the scars.
Prisoners did no work because the facility had no production contract at the time.157 Much of the inmates' time was taken up with compulsory viewing of television programs denigrating Falungong or with mandatory attendance at what Zhang described as defamatory lectures. Every Friday each practitioner had to write a review of what he had learned. Zhang and four others wrote how good Falungong was and included appeals for review of their cases. All five were returned to the less desirable end of the building.
Zhang said he hadn't thought about the consequences. He "had to say the truthto get the Chinese government to realize they were wrong to treat Falungong people this way. Not just for himself, but for the whole movement."
Within two weeks, Zhang was moved to Wangcun Labor Camp. The camp had a bad reputation and Zhang said "he was afraid he would die there." Much to his surprise, it was the antithesis of what he expected. He received a very friendly and kind welcome from the director and other staff. The food was good. Only after his release did Zhang realize the move and his treatment at Wangcun were in response to Canadian government efforts on his behalf.
At Wangcun, Zhang was subjected to 24-hour monitoring and prevented from speaking with any other inmates, though staff insisted he watch others play chess. Instead of the staff trying to convince him to give up Falungong, the director sent individuals purporting to be former Falungong practitioners to try to persuade him. Zhang said they talked very systematically, but they "confused" him and, he acknowledged, he became agitated. He said they told him that the good people have learned what there is to learn, the rest don't deserve Falungong, therefore Falungong must be destroyed. He began to believe they were right and he had misunderstood Falungong teachings. Prison staff encouraged Zhang to write down his new perceptions and to continue to write more and more "in the correct direction."
Zhang said that sometimes, one police officer, sometimes a few officers together, sometimes the director, would ask, "aren't we treating you nicely." When he acknowledged that they were, they asked him to "write it down." When he did, they asked him to write more, then suggested he had not said it the right way and recommended different language. Zhang complied, he said, because he thought they wanted the praise on record to bolster their end-of-year bonuses.
Two days before Zhang's release, the vice-Party secretary talked with him and asked-in fact, insisted-he do a painting. The following day, Zhang was escorted to the city hospital for a thorough health check. But he was not aware of his imminent release until just before he was let go. Personnel from both labor camps with gifts in hand were there for the occasion. Zhang's painting was displayed as his reciprocal gift. A car and driver from his university took him home. The only conditions for his release were that he "stay home," study communist works, do his job, and be law-abiding. In less than a week, Zhang was back in Canada.
Only after his release did Zhang realize what had been happening to him. Once back in Canada, he rescinded his confession and wrote to both camps to renounce what he had put in writing while in custody. (Appendix I.)
A month after Zhang's return to Canada, Zhang Shumei, still in China, eluded surveillance, avoided detention, and escaped back to Canada. The family wasreunited on February 15.158 Zhang continues to be an effective spokesman for Falungong much to the chagrin of Chinese officials committed to discrediting him.
Zhang Kunlun's case is an example of the abuses suffered by Falungong practitioners assigned to the middle category of the three into which the government divides followers: ordinary practitioners, so-called leading members, and "backbone elements."159 It illustrates how Chinese officials ordered a change in tactics when they realized the timetable for destroying Falungong had to be extended in the face of its practitioners' tenacity and the group's ability to generate ad hoc local leaders determined to prove the organization's worth and expand its membership. Zhang's successive arrests and releases demonstrate how local authorities responded to the increasingly severe instructions from Beijing and reveal something of the tensions created by differing local and central concerns. Zhang's situation also exemplifies the complications for China in dealing with an active practitioner with international connections. His first-hand account adds to our knowledge of the inherently arbitrary sentencing practices and the coercive psychological practices associated with the non-judicial reeducation through labor system.
155 Based on Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Zhang Kunlun, January 23, 25, 29, 30, 2001.
156 Mr. Zhang was not certain whether the detention actually took place on June 30 or July 1.
157 Prisons and labor camps specialize in a variety of productive enterprises for which inmates supply the labor. According to Zhang, at the time he was in Jinan labor camp, its second division had satisfied its contract demands.
158 For details see, Colin Freeze, "Falun gong follower's flight aided: Canadian embassy helped Ottawa woman return home to her husband and daughter," Globe and Mail, February 17, 2001.
Chinese authorities decreed that Falungong followers would receive punishment dependent on the category of offender to which they were assigned, the severity of the government's response increasing with the offender's importance to the organization. The system is much the same as the one used against religious offenders who refuse to practice within the limits set by the state. The objective, in addition to punishment, has been to separate those identified as core leaders from their followers so as to make it easier to reintegrate rank-and-file practitioners and, where possible, "leading members" into Chinese society as conceived by the state. To accomplish that end, the government ordered that ordinary practitioners willing to give up their Falungong beliefs were to be treated as victims. Leading members who repented and provided intelligence would also be treated leniently. The criteria for determining who fit in which category appear to have been flexible.
Zhang fits the leading member category for several reasons. He was a recidivist, i.e. someone who refused to give up commitment to Falungong beliefs even after short-term detentions and warnings. In fact, his dedication seems to have hardened with time and persecution. In addition, authorities seem to have perceivedhim as a person of some stature and influence in his scholastic community, one who could effectively rally others to the Falungong cause through his personal commitment and whose defection, if it could be arranged, might bring others in its wake. But it does not appear as if he were a core organizer.
Chinese officials made it clear that although Zhang was a Canadian citizen, because he held dual citizenship and had traveled to China on a Chinese passport, he had no rights to Canadian consular access as requested.160 The Chinese government's messages seemed clear: practitioners from abroad would not escape prosecution if they defied the ban on Falungong activities; and foreign governments would have difficulty intervening in such cases.
The Canadian government, nevertheless, continued to press hard, perhaps concluding that the Chinese leadership would not want to jeopardize Canada's trade mission and would have to do more than grant consular access to Zhang.161 In freeing Zhang, Chinese authorities used the domestic media to make clear they were doing so solely on their own initiative because he had come to a "correct understanding of the nature of Falun Gong" and had helped other followers to "understand the nature of the cult."162 A nationally televised television program showed Zhang, flanked by guards, praising the staff at his re-education camp. "In this place," he said, the staff use "care, patience and sincerity, and the principles of education, persuasion and rescue."163
Zhang's recantation, thus, gave Chinese officials an opportunity to showcase China's "concern" for ordinary Falungong practitioners misled by their own leadersand to illustrate the effectiveness of reeducation through labor, a non-judicial sentencing procedure, which the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and interested human rights organizations have pressed the Chinese government to abolish. The foreign media attention to Zhang's case offered an opportunity for worldwide attention to what at least appeared to be a genuine recantation.
Once home, Zhang told the rest of his story: how harshly he and others were treated in detention centers and reeducation camps;164 and how private Falungong practice (ostensibly allowed by the authorities) and limited dissemination of Falungong literature could lead to very serious trouble, particularly for someone relatively well-known, such as Zhang, who Chinese authorities might view as influential within his community.
Zhang ultimately recanted his recantation.165
159 "Beijing Government Vows Punishment for Sect Leaders," Associated Press News Service, August 25, 1999.
160 "Canada seeks access to jailed Falun Gong follower in China," Deutsche-Presse Agentur, December 1, 2000; "Canadian Falun Gong follower is imprisoned in China," Associated Press, December 2, 2001.
161 "China releases Canadian Falun Gong follower," Associated Press Newswires, January 10, 2001; Paul Adams, "China releases interned Canadians Falun gong follower tortured, kin say," The Globe and Mail, January 11, 2001; "Falungong practitioner arrives in Canada," Agence France-Presse, January 16, 2001; "Ontario: Falun Gong member is home," National Post, January 16, 2001; "Chinese rights abuse more than `disturbing,'" Toronto Star, February 14, 2001.
162 "Chinese TV reports early release of naturalized Canadian Falun Gong member," BBC Monitoring, January 13, 2001, from China Central TV, January 13, 2001. See also "Former Falun Gong follower denounces group - China's Xinhua news agency," BBC Monitoring, January 18, 2001; "Rehabilitated Chinese Falungong Member Call to Abide by Chinese Laws," World News Connection, January 18, 2001; Paul Adams, "Canadian outcry helped Zhang avoid torture Falun Gong follower says Chinese jailers treated him better than other prisoners," The Globe and Mail, January 18, 2001.
163 "China shows Canadian-Chinese Falungong member praising his jail staff," Agence France-Presse, January 13, 2001.
164 "Freed Chinese-Canadian Falungong member recounts Chinese camp torture," Agence France-Presse, January 18, 2001; "Falun Gong follower recounts incidents of torture in Chinese prison," The Canadian Press, January 18, 2001.
165 For details see, "Former Falun Gong follower denounces group - China's Xinhua News Agency," BBC Monitoring, January 18, 2001; "AFP: China Shows Canadian-Chinese Falungong Member Praising Jail Staff," World News Connection, January 13, 2001; "Rehabilitated Chinese Falungong Member Call to Abide By Chinese Laws," World News Connection, January 18, 2001.