'A throwaway comment saved me from having my organs harvested'
Falun Gong member Jennifer Zeng says she was physically and mentally tortured while kept against her will in China.
Tuesday 18 June 2019 06:37, UK
Jennifer Zeng, 52, says she was arrested four times in China for following Falun Gong, a Chinese religious spiritual practice which the state has attempted to eradicate over the last 20 years.
She was held against her will, physically and mentally tortured, and kept in cramped conditions when she was thrown into a labour camp in 2000.
During her imprisonment, her blood was tested and her organs were scanned but she believes one small comment saved her from the scalpel. She now lives in America after leaving the camp in 2001.
As an international tribunal claims that the organs of prisoners are being illegally harvested and traded in China, here is Jennifer's version of events.
Going into the camp was like stepping into hell.
It was what we read about at school about Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. I thought it would never happen again but now it was happening to me.
The first order we got was to squat and immediately I heard the cracking sound of the electric batons ready to strike us. That first day we were made to squat under the scorching, baking sun for more than 15 hours. Many elderly women fainted and were shocked with the batons to be woken up.
I was in a cell with four bunk beds and there were initially eight of us there. This cell was later used to detain 20 people. You could not walk on the floor as it was covered in people. I believe the centre had been built especially to hold Falun Gong practitioners.
In the dispatch centre they wanted to destroy our minds. Most of the day was spent making us recite regulations designed to dehumanise us. It was mental torture and almost made me feel like I was raped mentally, again and again.
In a way I was lucky. I was one of the first ones sent to the camp so got a good prisoner uniform. Others had to wear a thicker uniform for colder weather. It was so heavy in the burning heat that many women had no choice but to strip and be naked in the cells.
Here we worked as slaves hand-knitting jumpers. We were woken up at 5.30am and worked until midnight. Sometimes, when an extra shipment needed to go on the plane to Europe or the US, we would work through the night.
Another part of the torture was the sleep deprivation. Those who did not give in and reform were forced to stand against the wall. You could hear the sound of people as they fell asleep standing up. You could just hear "Dong! Dong! Dong!" as their heads hit the wall.
After a few months, they decided if you didn't reform, you were not allowed any sleep. I saw one woman go mad from the sleep deprivation and mind games. The guards kept on at her and she snapped. Suddenly I saw a very stupid look in her eyes and then she started laughing so loudly. She said to them: "I finally understand, why didn't you tell me earlier?" She laughed in such a terrifying way and I knew from that moment that she was mad.
There were so many times I was on the verge of losing my sanity. I was so terrified of becoming like her, and that was even more terrible than the electric batons and torture.
I was so focused on my survival, I had no idea I was being prepared to have my organs harvested.
First I was taken to a medical facility on the way to the camp. They tested our eyes, our nose and then had us lie down on the bed. They touched our organs, listened to our heartbeats, everything. The doctor then asked us about our medical history and I explained I had been infected with hepatitis C after a blood transfusion during the birth of my daughter but was cured after I took up Falun Gong.
I had no idea that throwaway sentence potentially saved me. I had no sense of the reason behind his questions.
A month after we were transferred to a labour camp, a bus arrived with its windows covered in thick black curtains. We were handcuffed and pushed inside, with four people to two seats, with two people having to squat. I was forced to squat and made to stare at my feet. We were driven and we didn't know where. It was so hot and we were sweating so badly until all our clothes were wet.
Finally, we arrived and it was a normal hospital with ordinary people walking around. We were given a more thorough physical exam but also an X-ray in this dark room. When I recall that experience on the bus and going in this dark room, I think of the Jews taken to the gas chambers. It was so terrifying.
Another month passed and suddenly several of us were taken to a small room, a kind of clinic facility of the camp. This time they just took my blood. It was more than a normal amount. We were never told any results or shown anything.
Years later, after my escape, I came across a news article about the organ harvesting. Despite everything I had been through, I still couldn't believe this was true. It was too cruel.
It was only as more details emerged that I accepted it. I started crying. I knew I couldn't deny the facts anymore; this was true. And this is happening.
Only at that stage, I realised what a narrow escape I had. If I had not told the doctor I had had hepatitis C, I could have become a victim as well.
Luckily, I managed to escape by pretending to reform but it was not as simple as signing a document saying I turned my back on Falun Gong. I was forced to write essays about how evil the practice is and to read them to my fellow practitioners. Even then, this wasn't enough. 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.
Image:People in Vienna last year protesting against the importing of human organs from China
Writing a book to tell our story became my mission. I was constantly watched and I worried that I might say something in my sleep to give my plan away. Certain death awaited me if they discovered my intentions. As I forced myself to do all these things I didn't want to do, I felt like I was being killed inside. I felt my soul, my free will, my thoughts being taken away.
But I managed it. I got out. I wrote my book. And now through the tribunal, hopefully the world will know what happened to my people.
:: Jennifer Zeng is the author of Witnessing History: One Chinese Woman's Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong. She told her story to Sanya Burgess.