A Chinese woman who was thrown into a surreal ‘Nazi like’ concentration camp was saved from having her organs plundered by a chance admission to a prison guard.
Almost twenty years after the Falun Gong practitioner was released from a brutal prison in Beijing, Jennifer Zeng is shining a spotlight on the physical and mental torture she was subject to.
For 16 hours a day the mum-of-one was forced to stand in the sun and recite the camp’s regulations until she fainted, at which point a guard would shock her awake with an electric batton.
From the safety of her new life in New York, Ms Zeng relived her time inside while urging the international community to pile pressure on the Chinese authorities for their modern day treatment of the Uighur.
Her intervention comes following the publication of a damning report into the forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China, which alleges in gruesome detail how the practice continues today.
“It’s very sad, because we failed to stop them when they did this to Falun Gong,” Ms Zeng told Mirror Online of the state run programme of forced organ harvesting.
“The western world funded this persecution by investing in China. The (Chinese Communist Party) now has the power to expand this mass murder to Uighur and the people of Hong Kong.
“Virtually everyone in China is under surveillance. We should at least say loudly ‘this should not happen’ and stand up to the evil nature of the Communist party.
“We can help Chinese people have free access to free information overseas and issue laws to stop our own citizens going to China to do organ transplant.”
Ms Zeng’s status as a prisoner of conscience began to emerge in 1992 when she lost a lot of blood giving birth to her daughter.
For years she was in hospital, unable to work and despondent, until one day she was given books explaining the teaching methods of Falun Gong.
“I read the books and all my questions on human life and the universe all got answered,” Ms Zeng explained of the spiritual practice, which combines meditation with a moral and civic philosophy.
“It’s fairly simple to practice: You go to the park or do it at home; five exercises that take two hours; choose compassion and tolerance.
“For me it offered a new way to deal with myself. It worked on a deeper level. It treats the universe as a whole.
“It worked on me very, very fast.”
After a month of daily practice Ms Zeng, who had recently been released from hospital, she claims she was judged to be free from a host of debilitating liver problems by her doctor.
As she and many others found meaning in the teachings of Falun Gong however, the Chinese authorities were becoming increasingly wary of its force as a movement.
On July 20, 1999, security forces began to round up Falun Gong members in mass arrests across the country.
Ms Zeng was arrested on that first day and held for a short time in a sports centre.
In December that year she was detained for two days in the same building after attending the trial of one of the movement’s practitioners.
Two months later she was held for a month for having held a meeting with two people who went to the Tiananmen Square protests, before police hauled Ms Zeng from her bed at 2am on April 13.
They had intercepted an email she had sent to her parents explaining why she planned to continue practising Falun Gong – a crime considered national sabotage and one worthy of one year in a labour camp in the south of Beijing.
Ms Zeng recalled: “It was beyond immagination. From the first minute we were in the camp we were forced to lower our head and to squat or to stand, looking at our feet.
“Even when the police talked to us we were not allowed to raise our heads.
“We stood like this for 15 or 16 hours on the first day. Many elderly ladies could not endure it. They fainted. The police used electric batons to shock them awake.
“On the second day we were forced to stand motionlessly looking down for 16 hours. We had to recite the labour camp regulations.
“I thought I was going mad. I couldn’t endure it. I thought my mind was ripped. It was torture.
“I was yanked and taken to the ground. I had electric batons put on my body until I lost conciousness.
“I was then forced to squat in the sun and then kicked by a police officer if I moved. Whenever I became in the shade I had to move a little bit back into the sun.
“My throat still hurts because of the shouting. There was physical damage. I still cough. (I had) a lot of nightmares. It took me a long time to actually recover.”
When not subject to physical torture, the inmates were woken at 5.30am and made to knit until midnight or until the following morning if an order came in.
During her time in the camp Ms Zeng was taken to a medical facility where she had her eyes tested and her organs touched.
She explained to the doctor that she had been infected with hepatitis C during a blood transfusion after giving birth, but had been cured of it in the process of practising Falun Gong.
A month later she and several thousand inmates were taken in shackles in large buses with their windows blacked out to a hospital where they were x-rayed.
At a smaller clinic back at the camp their blood was taken without explanation.
It was only after her release that Ms Zeng learned that the authorities had been removing the organs of prisoners to be sold to wealthy and powerful people, from China and from overseas.
“Only at that stage, I realised what a narrow escape I had,” she explained.
“If I had not told the doctor I had had hepatitis C, I could have become a victim as well.
“From my first day (in the camp) I had a strange feeling. Is this real? Have I been sent to the concentration camps in the history books? Could this be happening in the 21st century?
“We read about it in the history books but it doesn’t happen anymore. I had been transferred to the Nazi concentration camps. That kind of feeling haunted me for a long time.”
As much as we’d like to believe such horrors are indeed consigned to the history books, a growing body of evidence shows that widespread detainment of prisoners of conscience continues in China today.
Last month the China Tribunal published a 460 page report after 18 months of investigation into organ harvesting in the country.
Enver Tothi – who now works as a London Uber driver – contributed to the enquiry, having been forced to remove a prisoners organs while working as a doctor.
While the Falun Gong were once the target of the authorities, following its effective dissolution as a movement the Uighur – an ethnic group of Muslims now largely situated in the north-west of China – became the new scapegoat.
Across dozens of witness testimonies featured in the report Uighur men and women speak of committing no or minor infractions before finding themselves in “reeducation camps”.
There they would be shackled and covered in black-out hoods, forced to sleep in incredibly cramped conditions and banned from speaking in their mother tongue.
Almost all regularly had their blood taken and organs examined for unexplained reasons.
One woman, detained in Masanjia, Liaoning in 2008, recalled: “Nine policemen forced me onto a bed so they could take the blood.
“At that time I asked them ‘why did you take our blood test’ so they asked people to get the blood tested first, I was put at the end of the line to get blood test.
“I was arrested five times. I was imprisoned twice.
“My friend in detention said she was threatened with a heart donation. She told me in person, and she told me that if there are opportunities coming up she is very willing to be the witness to expose this matter.”
Also included in the report is a transcript of a telephone call between an investigator and Zhu Jiabin, who admits to murdering and harvesting the organs of Gao Yixi in 2017.
Asked about the harvesting, Jiabin says: “Sold them!’ After slaughtering and opening up the belly, you just carve out the organs and sell them I only know to sell organs for money after organ harvesting.
“That is my principle… If you had guts to stand in front of me now I would live organ harvest you… My name is ‘the butcher’… I am called the butcher specialising in live organ harvesting… Its nothing, just like slaughtering pigs.
“You come over to shave their hair first and then split open the belly. I would carve out whatever I need. After scooping the organs out, I would sell them.”
Thankfully Ms Zeng, perhaps due to the admission she made about her hepatitis C, was not subject to such horrors.
She was set free after she pretended to turn her back on Falun Gong by writing essays on how evil the practice was, which she read to her fellow prisoners.
“Even then, this wasn’t enough,” she recalled.
“I was made to torture my jail mates. So many times I wondered if it was the right decision – but while I was in the prison I had realised I needed to find a way to tell the world about what was happening to my people.”
Having left China for the US, Ms Zeng wrote a book about her experience titled ‘Witnessing History: One Chinese Woman’s Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong’.