By the time Mr. Zhang Hongwei was released from a 13-year prison term in 2014 for not renouncing his faith in Falun Gong, the once-energetic martial arts champion had completely lost his physical strength.
He was emaciated and weak. His was almost blind, and he couldn’t see things beyond one foot away. His back was hunched, and his knees were injured. When he walked, he had to lean against the wall and make very tiny steps.
During Mr. Zhang’s imprisonment, his father-in-law, Mr. Song Wenhua, was tortured to death while detained at Chaoyanggou Forced Labor Camp, also for practicing Falun Gong.
Mr. Zhang’s wife struggled to make ends meet and raise their son, who was less than one year old when his father was given the lengthy prison sentence.
Mr. Zhang’s wife took him to see a doctor after he was released. The doctor said that Mr. Zhang had a brain cyst that pressed against his vision nerve system. It would cost them more than 100,000 yuan for a brain surgery, but there was no guarantee of restored vision.
Disappointed, they returned home. One and a half years later, Mr. Zhang completely lost his vision.
Despite his condition, the police still harassed him frequently because he remained firm in his faith even after all these years of persecution.
Mr. Zhang was arrested again in 2015 for filing a criminal complaint against Jiang Zemin, the former head of the Chinese communist regime who ordered the persecution of Falun Gong in 1999. He was later released after the detention centre refused to accept him because of his physical condition.
In July and November 2017, Mr. Zhang and his family were harassed while traveling from Tonghua City to Dalian City (in Liaoning Province). The first time, they were taken to a police station and body searched before they could board the train. The second time, they boarded the train but were searched by the railroad security.
With his health completely destroyed during the imprisonment, Mr. Zhang’s conditions kept deteriorating. After years of suffering, he passed away on May 3, 2019. He was 52.
Sentenced to 13 Years for Not Renouncing His Faith
Mr. Zhang, a resident of Shulan City, Jilin Province, used to work at the security department of Tonghua Iron and Steel Company. He was extremely fit and won a national martial arts competition. He could easily climb over a wall of 6 feet high or fight several people at the same time.
After learning the Falun Gong spiritual and meditation discipline in 1997, Mr. Zhang was said to have became a completely new person with high morality.
His wife said he disciplined himself by Falun Gong’s principles of “Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance” in his daily life.
During a propane gas explosion in a residential building of his company, he was the first one who rushed into the building to rescue people. At another time, he helped a lost child go back home.
After the communist regime ordered the nationwide persecution of Falun Gong in July 1999, Mr. Zhang went to Beijing to appeal to the central government for his faith. He was arrested and detained for two months.
Afraid of being implicated in the persecution, his manager forced him to resign from his job. Knowing what could happen to his manager in such an intensive political campaign, Mr. Zhang submitted his resignation.
On January 20, 2001, Mr. Zhang was arrested again for producing informational materials about the persecution. After seven month of detention, he was sentenced to 13 years by Fangshan District Court in Beijing.
Two-Month Hunger Strike
Mr. Zhang was taken to Tiebei Prison in Changchun City, Jilin Province, in mid-November 2001. He held a hunger strike to protest the persecution and was tied to a bed for seven days.
The confinement room he was locked in didn’t have glass in the windows, only broken plastic cloth. Snow sometimes drifted into the room and fell on his bed. With only a thin blanket, he shivered in the cold.
While recounting that experience, he said, “It was my faith in Falun Gong that gave me strength during that time. I recited Master’s teachings, and I felt my body was surrounded by positive energy. I believe all the hardships are temporary and justice will be served one day.”
On the eighth day, the prison guards force-fed him with salt water and flour paste. “The pain was excruciating when they inserted the feeding tube into my mouth. Blood spurted out. Even the inmates present said to the guards that it was so brutal for them to torture me like this,” Mr. Zhang said.
After two months of detention and hunger strike in confinement, Mr. Zhang was emaciated. When the guards sent him to the prison hospital, the doctor said he was severely dehydrated but refused to provide him any medical treatment.
During that period, his family was kept in the dark of his whereabouts. After nearly one year of arduous searching, they finally found him in the prison.
Enduring 13 Years of Torture with Strong Faith
On March 6, 2002, Mr. Zhang was transferred to Jilin Prison. In order to force him to renounce his faith, the guards ordered him to sit with his back upright, his arms behind his back and his legs lifted to parallel the floor. Only five minutes into the awkward posture, the pain became excruciating.
The guards arranged five inmates to take turns monitoring him around the clock. They beat him if he moved his body even a little due to fatigue.
Even though Mr. Zhang had strong personal combat skills, he never fought back no matter how hard the guards or inmates tortured him.
The guards later suspended him over a bed with his four limbs tied to posts (see illustration above).
Some inmates became disabled after this torture. Sometimes the guards shook Mr. Zhang’s wrists and ankles during the torture, and the pain was so intense it was as if “my hands and feet were falling off,” he recounted.
In addition to the stretching torture, Mr. Zhang was also subjected to freezing, starvation, sexual harassment, savage beatings, and injection of unknown drugs.
He developed severe medical conditions, including bilateral tuberculosis, pleurisy, abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen, hypertension, stomach ulcers and heart disease. But the prison authorities never stopped torturing him.
He said every time he was on the brink of death, it was his faith in Falun Gong that enabled him to withstand the unimaginable suffering and pull through.
Mr. Zhang held another hunger strike to protest the persecution on March 25, 2009. The guards put him in solitary confinement. Two weeks later, he was hospitalised and diagnosed with stomach polyps and erosion, small intestine ulcer, calcification in the lungs, and a lump on the liver. He threw up everything he ate and was skin and bones.
His family applied for medical parole for him on June 12, 2009, but they were told that he was “not qualified.”
In July 2012, he was transferred to the 11th ward, which was designated for the elderly and disabled. He was only in his 40s.
This time, the doctor found a tumor in his brain. His family applied for medical parole for him, only to be rejected again because he still refused to renounce Falun Gong.
The guards later put him insolitary confinement for four days after finding Falun Gong teachings on him.
After 13 years of nonstop torture and mistreatment, Mr. Zhang returned home on January 19, 2014.