Blog: My life inside a Chinese labor camp

People are taking part  in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights action this week by writing letters and signing petitions to show solidarity with individuals who suffer human right abuses.

Former prisoner of conscience Bu Dongwei spent over two years in a Chinese Re-education through Labour (RTL) camp until his release in July 2008, following campaigning by Amnesty International and its supporters…

By Bu Dongwei
“I was working in Beijing for a US NGO on a project funded by US government funds when I was detained and sent to a ‘Re-education Through Labor (RTL)’ camp due to my belief in Falun Gong.

On May 19, 2006, six to seven police broke into my home and searched for the book ‘Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party’. They didn’t find the book they wanted but found several Falun Gong books. They put me in the detention centre in Haidian District, Beijing.

I was locked in a small cell (about 220 square feet) with 30-35, sometimes over 40 people. I stayed in the detention centre for over three months before I was transferred to the labor camp.

It was to be my second time in this labor camp. In 2000, I was sent to the labor camp for one year the same reason.

Persecution in the labor camp includes; torture, forced labor work, deprivation of basic needs, brain-washing, no freedom to go to the restroom, no freedom to wash clothes, bad food and bad living conditions.

In the Beijing Tuanhe Labor Camp, all Falun Gong practitioners are forced to repeatedly listen to guards insult the Falun Gong, watch videos that slander Falun Gong, forced to denounce Falun Gong and, every day, forced to sing songs that praise the Communist Party.

Force-feeding is a torture method that labor camps often use on Falun Gong practitioners, particularly on those who have staged hunger strikes to protest their unlawful persecution.

One practitioner, Mr. Yu Ming, whom I first met in Tuanhe labor camp in 2001, was in the labor camp for the third time. But this time I never saw him because he staged a hunger strike and was put into a special, small room with a video camera.

One day a guard took me into their office. He forgot to turn off the monitor before I went in. On the monitor, I saw Yu Ming bound on a small bed in the center of the room with four non-Falun Gong detainees sitting around him.

Every day, the doctor would come to force-feed Yu Ming. He had been bound on the bed for over six months before he was transferred to another labor camp in April 2007. .

The guards arranged some non-Falun Gong detainees to live with us and monitor Falun Gong practitioners. The guards promised to reduce the non-Falun Gong detainees’ terms if they ‘worked well’. Falun Gong practitioners are not allowed to talk to each other.

Forced labor work
During my first time in the camp, we were forced to pack disposable chopsticks in very unsanitary conditions. Every day we were forced to pack 6,000-7,000 pairs of chopsticks. All the chopsticks were put on the ground of the small room and people often stepped on them. Some of those chopsticks are for export.

In July, 2009, while I was having lunch in a cafeteria in Capitol Hill, Washington DC, I saw that the disposable chopsticks in the cafeteria were made in China. I’m not sure if these chopsticks were made in labor camps… but we made the same chopsticks.

In my second time in the camp, we were forced to pack carton boxes and were exposed to poisonous glues with little protection.

With the help of the US government, the European Parliament, the British and German government, Amnesty International and others, my daughter and I eventually came to the US to join my wife following my release in July 2008.

I sincerely thank all the people who have helped my family and me in the past two years.

Today, millions of Falun Gong practitioners are still being persecuted in mainland China. Many have lost their jobs, their homes and their freedom. Some have even lost their lives just because of the strength of their beliefs.

Even when I was in the labor camp, I could feel from the attitude of the guards that they got pressure from the outside world. One guard even mentioned to me once that international human rights organizations cared about me.

Only after I arrived in the US did I learn that Amnesty members around the world had written me hundreds, if not thousands, of letters. All the letters were impounded by the authorities. But I believe that the pressure from international society, of course including the letters from Amnesty members, helped me a lot.

From my experience, attention and pressure from international society can help to improve the conditions of jailed people. The Letter Writing Marathon is a great idea. Chinese people are now beginning to launch similar programs for those in China’s jails. Please help to stop the persecution of various kinds of people. The injustice must be – and will be – stopped by the joined efforts of all upright and kind people.”