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This chapter examines the available information about Falungong practitioners detained in prisons, reeducation through labor camps, psychiatric institutions, and other incarceration facilities. It looks at the demographic characteristics of those being held; the charges, if any, against them; and the kinds of rights violations they have suffered in custody. The analysis is necessarily provisional and far from complete. China does not allow independent monitors into prisons and reeducation camps and has made it too dangerous for family members, friends, or workmates to speak with journalists or other outsiders except under strictly controlled conditions.

Almost all the information available to Human Rights Watch comes from either official Chinese government or Falungong sources, both of which obviously have a stake in releasing data that supports their respective claims. Chinese government information is designed to show the numbers of people whose lives have been destroyed by Falungong practice; Falungong seeks to demonstrate the extent of government repression. There is no sure way of checking the information from either source, making it impossible to fully assess competing claims about the numbers of judicial sentences, reeducation through labor terms, deaths in custody, and so on.

Despite this fundamental limitation and the need for extreme caution, certain tentative conclusions can be drawn. Examination of the available data yields details about who gets detained, in what kinds of facilities, what kinds of charges are brought against them, how they are treated in custody, and who the Chinese government chooses to punish most harshly. The number of practitioners sentenced judicially is small and appears to be limited to Falungong's core leaders and large-scale publishers and distributors; the overwhelming majority have been sentenced to reeducation through labor terms, a form of administrative punishment that allows for no judicial input. A marked discrepancy exists between Falungong and Chinese explanations for deaths in custody and accounts of treatment of inmates in prisons, labor camps, and other facilities, but there is substantial evidence that torture and other abuses are common in at least some of the facilities.

Judicial Prosecutions

As indicated above, only a small proportion of Falungong members in custody are prosecuted through the judicial system. Although Chinese government public relations materials have repeatedly alleged that Falungong leaders won converts through fraud, disturbed social order through public protest and rumor mongering, and compromised the health of the nation by campaigning against medical treatment, there is little evidence that more than a handful of Falungong adherentswere tried on the basis of such charges. Instead, until mid-2001, the focus of formal judicial prosecutions appears to have been concentrated on two groups, key Falungong organizers tried for organizing and using a cult organization to disrupt the law, organizing illegal assemblies, disseminating superstitious fallacies, and leaking state secrets; and followers involved in large-scale printing, publication, and distribution of Falungong materials for use within China and in publicizing abuses to an overseas audience. As such, the prosecutions, resulting in sentences ranging between three to eighteen years, directly violated Falungong members' basic rights to freedom of expression, belief, and association.

By August 2001, after Falungong had moved away from such activities under intense government pressure, heavy prison sentences, in the worst case up to thirteen years, were imposed on those charged with organizing the printing of leaflets and banners, using the Internet to circulate Falungong materials, or arranging meetings of practitioners. One alleged practitioner received a life sentence for his alleged part in organizing the self-immolation incident in January 2001.166

As of August 20, 2001, the Chinese government officially reported over 350 judicial prosecutions.167 Only some of the names have been made public. As of April 27, 2001, Falungong sources listed 193 named prisoners and reported that another sixty-six were serving sentences but did not identify them.168 No figures for those whose cases are awaiting adjudication are available from either government or Falungong sources.

In January 2001, eighteen months after the original ban on Falungong and a reaffirmation of the ban on Falungong materials, the Xinhua news agency featured an exposé of publishing violations, citing 3,000 cases of unlawful printing anddistribution uncovered by public security organs.169 Although the report included only a few examples, official sources publicly acknowledged others. A few examples follow to illustrate the kinds of cases that end up being prosecuted.

C August 19, 2001; a court in Beijing sentenced Zhang Xiongwei to thirteen years in prison in part for banding with others to print 98,000 leaflets and make 2,800 banners.170

C March 1, 2001: the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court sentenced Xue Hairong to a seven-year term for downloading information off a Falungong web site, turning it into pamphlets, and organizing their distribution.171 He was in detention when he died of leukemia on March 22, 2001.172

C December 5, 2000: Beijing No.1 Intermediate Court sentenced Peng You, Mu Chunyan, Chen Suping, and Zhang Lixin to terms ranging up to eight years for "illegally printing publicity about the Falun Gong cult." They allegedly printed and distributed several hundred thousand fliers and 200 compact disks.173

C June 14, 2000: a court in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, secretly tried Gu Linna, one of the principal organizers of a clandestine press conference held with foreign journalists in October 1999. She was sentenced to a four-year prison term presumably the same day as she was tried. Until April 23, 1999, when Gu aired a program favorable to Falungong, she was a reporter as well as director of a program on the economy for the Shijiazhuang People's Radio Station.174

C January 26, 2000: Dongcheng District Court in Beijing sentenced two sisters, Li Xiaobing and Li Xiaomei, to six- and seven-year terms respectively for running an illegal business, the major location in Beijing for buying Falungong books, tapes, and related materials. Authorities claimed 1.8 million books had been sold from the shop.175

C January 6, 2000: Wuhan Intermediate People's Court sentenced a husband and wife team, Wang Hansheng and Xu Xianglan, to six-and eight-year prison terms in part for publishing, printing, copying, and selling some four million books, over a million pictures, and over half a million audio-video products.176

Reeducation through Labor; Transformation Centers

Chinese government persecution has not been limited to key organizers, big-time publishers, major distributors, or small-scale proselytizers. It has been directed against scores of low profile practitioners-rank and file followers-willing to publicly defend Falungong. Penalties for this latter group have typically been lighter, but its members have been subjected to grave mental and physical abuse including torture and mistreatment. At the start of the crackdown, most detained protesters were held for only a few days of "reeducation," in part because the government appears to have misjudged the depth of commitment, in part because there were insufficient permanent facilities for long-term incarceration of tens of thousands of practitioners. As it became evident that dismantling Falungong could not be accomplished quickly, and as demonstrations became daily occurrences, officials apparently grew impatient with briefly detained practitioners who, as soon as they were released, rejoined public protests in Tiananmen Square. In October 2000, China's policy changed. Instead of the Public Security Bureau rounding up protestors and escorting them home or detaining them for a few days or weeks, "relevant Beijing departments...decided to practice a `close style management' on stubborn Falungong members."177 In the hope of facilitating the permanent "transformation" of identified "recidivists," such individuals were to be immediately sentenced administratively to reeducation through labor, in some cases for as longas three years.178

According to some estimates, since the start of the crackdown as many as 10,000 followers may have been sentenced administratively to reeducation terms. The government has released few numbers, much less names, although a May 2001 story in the official press depicting the rehabilitation process at the Masanjia Reeducation Through Labor Institute in Shenyang, Liaoning province, provided one clue. It put the total number of women Falungong practitioners housed there at about 1,000, 90 percent of whom had been "successfully reeducated." Three hundred of the women had completed their terms; another 300 had had their terms reduced or were permitted to complete them outside the camp.179 A second account reported that, in June 2001, the Tuanhe Reeducation Through Labor Camp on the outskirts of Beijing had 340 Falungong practitioners in custody and had released another eighty.180

Three-year terms can be imposed judicially or administratively, and both methods have been used in Falungong cases. It is unclear what dictates the decision in any given case, but an official Chinese source noted that no one is sent for reeducation simply because of Falungong practice, but rather for the "slight" crime of breaking the law and disturbing public order. His comment suggests that judicial sentences were reserved for those who actively organized protests or the dissemination of Falungong publications.181 As noted, available case information is consistent with this interpretation.

Falungong's own list of those administratively sentenced is dependent on leaked information, and is often missing crucial data, such as dates of detention,length of terms, and home towns, making corroboration difficult.182

In addition to prisons and reeducation camps, reports indicate that provincial authorities have set up a system of extra-judicial "transformation" points or centers "to actively carry out work to educate and transform the minds of Falungong practitioners."183 Early official reports presented the process as benign, but reports of meetings after the immolation event in January 2001 and the February 2001 Central Work Conference indicated a much harder line. At a meeting in Jiangsu province in June, the Party deputy secretary called on "all local authorities and departments" to create the "necessary mechanisms" for furthering the work, including "teams of education assistants and workers," leading cadres, and people from all walks of life.184 He informed those present that half the Falungong "diehards" and "zealots" had to be transformed by the end of the year, and 80 percent must remain transformed. Although no mention was made of transformation methods, Falungong and journalist accounts indicate that the mental and physical abuse could be extraordinarily severe.185

Death in Custody, Torture and Other Ill-treatment

There is evidence of a range of serious abuses against Falungong members in custody, including beatings, electric shock and other forms of torture, forced feeding and administration of psychotropic drugs, and extreme psychological pressure to recant. Analysis of Falungong and government reports provides some insights about treatment in custody and about who is likely to suffer the worst abuses. However, as indicated above, it is difficult to verify practitioner accounts or the occasional official report.

As of June 27, 2001, Falungong claimed that some 234 practitioners had died suspicious deaths in custody or immediately following release, and that countlessothers were victims of torture and mistreatment.186 Chinese public security officers either had "no comment" or offered alternate explanations for the deaths, such as "died of a heart attack."

The first of the deaths reported by Falungong dates from July 1999, four days after the organization was banned.187 The cases divide almost evenly by sex and are concentrated by region. Over 50 percent of the practitioners whose residence was noted lived in Shandong or the three northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning. Falungong began in the northeast and had its greatest following there.

The same four provinces accounted for place of death in over 40 percent of the cases that listed where death occurred. Although only seven practitioners on the list were Beijing residents, eighty were arrested there and twenty-seven, more than 10 percent, died there. Falungong centered its protests in Tiananmen Square, and that is where many Falungong followers who had traveled to Beijing from their home provinces had their initial encounters with public security officials. Most were immediately delivered into the custody of provincial governments stationed in Beijing. Of the thirty-six who were transported back to their home provinces, ten died en route.

The available data yields two other observations. The first is the discrepancy between official and Falungong explanations for the deaths. Chinese government sources say very little about the deaths. According to Falungong, Chinese authorities had explanations for only seventy-two cases, over one-third of which the government attributed to suicide. Medical problems, including heart attack, pneumonia, and "blood poisoning," accounted for another thirty cases; six people allegedly died from hunger strikes; three were said to have jumped out of buildings and two from moving vehicles; three allegedly fell to their deaths, and one was reported to have died in a car accident. One death is listed only as "natural." The Falungong review lists only one case in which authorities appear to acknowledge foul play- a local hospital autopsy report lists the cause of one death as "beating with blunt objects."188

Falungong sources identify the cause of death in more than three times as many cases. Mistreatment is said to have accounted for 103 deaths, over 55 percent of the total; force-feeding for another twenty; and hunger strikes for sixteen. Two people reportedly died from psychotropic drugs administered in psychiatric facilities; two others are said to have been poisoned; five reportedly died fromillness, and seven deaths are attributed to suicide. Almost half the deaths reportedly occurred in police stations or detention centers, a pattern consistent with a pre-sentencing policy of eliciting "voluntary confessions" from detainees.

A second important observation concerns the time interval between date of detention and date of death. Falungong sources list dates of detention and at least the months in which deaths occurred for 156 cases. Taking the most conservative reading, seventy-nine people, over half the total, died within two weeks of detention, forty-four of those within days. Another thirty-two died within two months; the remaining forty-five lived longer than two months.

As noted, reports of Falungong deaths in detention are reported on the Falungong web site; however, precise sources are rarely made known. Because of the danger of exposure to family, friends, or fellow inmates who disseminate information, the stories are usually attributed to "Practitioners from Mainland China." Journalists and humanitarian organizations have very rarely had access to sources other than official or Falungong sources. In one such case, Zhang Xueling, who told a foreign journalist that her mother, Chen Zixiu, had died of a police beating, was sentenced to a three-year reeducation through labor term. Ms. Zhang had been trying to obtain her mother's death certificate to help prove that she died as a result of police abuse and not, as officials would have it, of a heart attack.189 Ms. Chen died in February 2000; Ms. Zhang was not sentenced until April 24, 2001, less than a week after the journalist involved won a prestigious award for his reporting on her odyssey.190

The Chinese government appears to bear responsibility for these deaths. Practitioners should never have been detained for activities such as peacefully assembling to protest the ban on Falungong, continuing to publicly practice Falungong exercises, and arranging to distribute Falungong literature. They should not have been compelled to renounce their beliefs as a condition of release from police lockups, detention centers, or reeducation camps. In many cases, their refusals to capitulate during interrogations appear to have led directly to their deaths.

Falungong sources have also reported widespread torture in prisons andcamps. In response, Chinese authorities have simply reiterated old themes. The director of Prison Administration, for example, said only that torture is prohibited by law, and that offices and special mailboxes to "deal with illegal practices" are available in all prisons.191 As for reeducation through labor camp abuse, the head of China's anti-cult office repeated what an official newspaper said in 1997 when it called for strengthening the system, that reeducation is akin to the way parents treat their children, doctors their patients, and teachers their students.192 For Falungong people, the aim is to "educate, reform, and rescue [them from] being misled..."193 As detailed above, Canadian citizen Zhang Kunlun would vehemently disagree with this characterization. Both Zhang's case and other published accounts suggest that physical violence as well as psychological coercion are common in the camps and that the situation has worsened over time.194

Information on two cases comes from a Chinese government response to inquiries made by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture in November 1999.195 According to Chinese officials, Zhao Jinhua died after refusing to go to the hospital for treatment of her heart disease, rather than from police beatings as alleged.196 In a second, case, that of Yu Hanxin, officials denied allegations of torture duringinterrogation.197 Of the four other named cases submitted, the Chinese government either made no response or indicated that the practitioner could not be located.198

Psychiatric Incarceration

Assessing how many Falungong members have been taken into custody and how they have been treated is further complicated by the Chinese government practice of treating or warehousing Falungong followers in mental institutions or psychiatric wards. According to a doctor with Beijing University's Mental Hygienics Institute, firm Falungong believers suffer from "delusion-like subcultural beliefs," that their state of mind is not "normal," and their "righteous choice is to seek help from psychiatrists in hospitals."199 Her statement had nothing to say about forced placement and medication in mental hospitals. In February 2001, a foreign ministry spokesperson said that allegations of misuse of psychiatry were "totally groundless."200 As of March 18, 2001, Falungong's website listed the names of 214 practitioners reputed to be in psychiatric detention and mentioned another fifty-two for whom no names were given. At the time, Falungong spokespersons were estimating that the total number of psychiatric detainees approached 1,000.201

If there is a rationale for sending Falungong practitioners to psychiatric facilities, it is unclear. Robin Munro, author of a ground-breaking study of psychiatric abuse in China, has stated that many who end up in such facilities do not belong there. He goes on to say that "political criminals," the subset that includes Falungong practitioners, who evince "a perplexing absence of any normal instinct for self-preservation" wind up in mental institutions."202

From what information is available about Falungong practitioners confined in mental facilities, judgments as to the appropriateness of the placements do not seem to be made on the basis of generally accepted psychiatric criteria. On the other hand, several pragmatic reasons for the practice have been suggested, that practitioners are sent to mental hospitals when they have been held in traditionaldetention facilities longer than the law allows or when overcrowding becomes too severe or when authorities at detention centers are trying to reduce their own costs. In any event, the basis for determining who is sent to what kind of facility is not apparent.

An analysis of the Falungong material on psychiatric placement of practitioners yields some general information about those being held, but raises questions about why particular practitioners have been singled out.203 For example, more than 75 percent of those whose sex is listed are women, a profile which fits with reports that the majority of resolute protestors were women. Shandong province, where the crackdown has been most extensive, accounts for over 35 percent of cases for which location is listed; Beijing accounts for 25 percent.204 The number of publicized cases or even those with some identifying information is too small to yield reliable judgments on such categories as occupation or status within Falungong, but a sampling included an intermediate court judge, a Party official, cadres at various government bureaus and commissions, military officers, police officials and traffic policemen, professors and teachers, accountants, engineers, bank employees, factory, mine, hospital, and retail store workers, a retired manager of an investment company, a researcher, and a fashion model.

The identified cases, many of professionals or security personnel, may be an artifact of the greater willingness of family members to divulge information to Falungong spokespersons, easier access to e-mail or other means of relaying information, or other unidentified factors. On the other hand, the government's preoccupation with security and the problem of disciplining recalcitrant army and police personnel and government cadres may account for the prevalence of such cases among those identified.

166 Erik Eckholm, "4 Are Jailed for Falun Gong's Public Suicides," New York Times, August 18, 2001.

167 "Chinese official says 242 Falun Gong members prosecuted," BBC Monitoring, January 29, 2001, from Xinhua, January 15, 2001; "Shandong Court Jails Two for Publicizing Falungong," FBIS, February 13, 2001, from Xinhua, February 9, 2001; "China Jails 37 Who Spread Falun Gong Fliers," Reuters, March 2, 2001; "China jails 13 more Falun Gong activists," Reuters, March 13, 2001; "China jails 45 Falun Gong organizers," South China Morning Post, Reuters, August 20, 2001; "Five jailed for organising Falun Gong meetings," Associated Press, August 20, 2001; "Beijing Legal Times Reports Six Falungongers Sentenced to Up to Six Years," FBIS, August 10, 2001, from Agence France-Presse, August 9, 2001.

168 These statistics were compiled from two Falungong documents: "An incomplete list of Falun Gong practitioners sentenced to prison," January 26, 2001, and an update on April 27, 2001. As of May 2, 2001, both could be accessed on

169 "`Falungong' Illegal Publicity Materials Violate Law and Social Ethics," Xinhua, January 21, 2001, in "PRC Crackdown on Falungong Spreading Illegal `Publicity Materials' Viewed," FBIS, January 24, 2001.

170 "Five jailed...," Associated Press.

171 Vivien Pik-kwan Chan, "37 jailed in latest anti-Falun Gong drive," South China Morning Post, March 3, 2001.

172 "CHINA: Falun Gong follower dies in custody in China," Reuters, November 9, 2001.

173 "Beijing court rejects appeal of case on distributing Falun Gong material," BBC Monitoring, December 28, 2000, from Xinhua.

174 For Gu's defense statement, see

175 Renee Schoof, "32 Falun Gong members get prison in secret trials," Associated Press Newswires, February 1, 2000.

176 "Sentenced Falun Gong members `displayed repentance,'" BBC Worldwide Monitoring, January 7, 2000, from Xinhua, January 6, 2000.

177 "HK Paper: Beijing Decides to Send Falungong Members to Labor Reform Camps," FBIS, October 16, 2000, from Hong Kong Ming Bao (Internet Version-WWW), October 12, 2000.

178 Hong Kong Ming Bao, "HK Paper: Beijing Decides...," FBIS, Oct. 12, 2000. It is unclear if the directive applies to those who are first-time offenders. In addition, there is evidence that in some places the practice persists of holding active proselytizers briefly, then handing them over to their work units for supervision.

179 "Falun Gong Practitioners' Life at Re-education Institute," People's Daily Online, 62663.html, February 18, 2001. In May 2001, foreign journalists were invited to tour the camp. See "Falun Gong Re-education Camp Exposed to Foreign Media," People's Daily Online,, May 24, 2001.

180 "Re-education Camp: Cult Addicts Transformed Heart and Soul," People's Daily Online,, June 12, 2001.

181 "Torture and Ill-treatment of Prisoners Prohibited in China," Xinhua, February 19, 2001; "Chinese Official Discusses Handling of Falungong Cult," FBIS, February 28, 2001, from Xinhua, February 27, 2001.

182 The list can be accessed through (Click first on "Human Rights Violation Reports," then on "Reports and Name List Compiled After August 2000," and finally on "Labor Camp Cases.")

183 "Shanxi reports on re-educating Falun Gong members," BBC Worldwide Monitoring, March 5, 2000, from Xinhua, February 25, 2000; Charles Hutzler, "Beijing is Breaking Down Spiritual Group ---Newly Aggressive Assault on Falun Gong Follows Immolations in January," Wall Street Journal, April 26, 1001; John Leicester and Charles Hutzler, "Members of sect sent to camps," Associated Press, January 16, 2001.

184 "Provincial On-the-Spot Conference on Educating and Transforming `Falungong' Followers Stresses Need To Tighten Measures for Addressing the `Falungong' Issue Radically," Nanjing Xinhua Ribao, June 9, 2001, in "Jiangsu Deputy Secretary Speaks on Educating, Transforming Falungong `Diehards,' `Zealots,'" FBIS, June 22, 2001.

185 John Pomfret and Philip Pan, "Torture Is Breaking Falun Gong, China Systematically Eradicating Group," Washington Post, August 5, 2001.

186 "A List of Falun Gong Practitioners Who Have Died as a Result of the Crackdown,"

187 Ibid.

188 "Ms. Zhao Jinhua of Shandong Province was Tortured to Death for Practicing Falun Gong,"

189 Ian Johnson, "China's Bureaucracy Stymies a Daughter in Search of Justice -- Mrs. Zhang Tried to Prove Police Killed Her Mother -- A Great Wall of Silence," Asian Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2000; Ian Johnson, "China Tells U.N. No Wrong in Death of Falun Gong Member," Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2000; Ian Johnson, "Ms. Chen Believed Falun Gong a Right -- To Her Last Day -- Cellmates Recall Her Screams Before She Died in Jail -- `No Measures Too Excessive,'" Asian Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2000.

190 "Sect member who questioned death of mother sentenced," Deutsche-Presse Agentur, May 10, 2001.

191 "Torture and Ill-treatment of Prisoners...," Xinhua, February 19, 2001.

192 John Leicester, "China likens crackdown on Falun Gong to war on drugs, assails Washington," Associated Press Newswires, February 27, 2001; "Work of Reeducation Through Labor Is To Be Strengthened, Not Weakened," Legal Daily (Fazhi Ribao), September 30, 1997, in "Vice Justice Minister Interviewed on `Reeducation Through Labor,'" FBIS, October 1, 1997.

193 "Responsible Official of the State Council Office for the Prevention and Handling of Evil Cults Answers Reporters' Questions," Xinhua, February 27, 2001, in "PRC's State Council Office for Handling `Evil Cults' Holds News Conference," FBIS, March 1, 2001; "Falun Gong Practitioners' Life at Re-education Institute," People's Daily Online,, February 18, 2001.

194 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; John Pomfret and Philip Pan, "Torture Is Breaking Falun Gong, China Systematically Eradicating Group," Washington Post, August 5, 2001.

195 "Civil and Political Rights Including Questions of Torture and Detention: Report of the Special Rapporteur, Sir Nigel Rodley, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1999/32," United Nations, Economic and Social Council, E/CN.4.2000/9, 2 February 2000, paragraph 219.

196 "Civil and Political Rights Including Questions of Torture and Detention: Report of the Special Rapporteur, Sir Nigel Rodley, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1999/32," United Nations, Economic and Social Council, E/CN.4/2001/66, 25 January, 2001, paragraph 321.

197 E/CN.4.2000/9, paragraph 220; E/CN.4/2001/66, paragraph 322.

198 E/CN.4.2000/9, paragraph 220-221; E/CN.4/2001/66, paragraph 327.

199 "Chinese doctor says Falun Gongers suffer `delusion-like subcultural beliefs,'" BBC Monitoring, February 4, 2001, from Xinhua, February 4, 2001.

200 "FM Spokesman Denies Report on Abusing Psychiatry for Political Reasons," FBIS, February 21, 2001, from Agence France-Presse, February 20, 2001.

201 For further discussion of forced placement of Falungong practitioners in psychiatric facilities, see Robin Munro, "Judicial Psychiatry in China and its Political Abuses," Columbia Journal of Asian Law, Vol.14, No.1, Spring 2000, pp. 106-120.

202 Interview reported in Erik Eckholm, "Psychiatric Abuse by China Reported in Repressing Sect," New York Times, February 18, 2001.

203 "Name list of Falun Gong practitioners who have been sent to mental hospitals," March 18, 2001, as of April 27, 2001 accessed at

204 Ian Johnson, "Death Trap: How One Chinese City Resorted to Atrocities to Control Falun Gong --- Pressured by their Superiors, Weifang's Police Tortured Members of Banned Sect --- The Makeshift Jail in Beijing," Wall Street Journal, December 26, 2000.

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