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Cult Re-education Camp Opens to Foreign Media

"What do you think of Falun Gong?" a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) asked two rows of "students" at a re-education camp for female Falun Gong practitioners.

"I think it's an evil cult," "It's a cult," former practitioners said one after another in front of microphones and cameras.

Suddenly, a woman said with a smile that "I still think it is good." The woman in her 40s looked strong and healthy.

Other foreign reporters quickly came up to ask her questions. But the women's other fellow "students" showed no sign of being startled, because she was the only one in this group yet to be converted back to normal life.

"Everyone of us was just as stubborn as she is when we first came here," one said.

This was an episode Xinhua witnessed Tuesday at the 2nd Women's Unit of the Masanjia Re-educaton-through-labor Center near Shenyang, capital city of Northeast China's Liaoning Province. The Center is best known for its success in bringing the majority of the Falun Gong followers it accommodates back to normal life. It is also the most heavily attacked institution by Li Hongzhi and his organization headquartered in New York.

The visit by foreign journalists marks the first ever exposure to foreign media of China's re-education-through-labor camps specially for Falun Gong practitioners. Also joining the tour were the Associated Press and NBC News from the United States, NHK from Japan, and Singapore Press Holdings.

"It (the camp) is extremely open, and I am surprised that we are allowed this close access to the re-education camp," said Eric Campbell from the ABC.

The 2nd women's unit of Masanjia has only two building, one for administrative use, the other contains dormitories and classrooms for the Practitioners. In between is a playground just the size of a basketball court. Dozens of inmates could be seen playing basketball there.

In one office, a policewoman was trying to persuade a Falun Gong activist to abandon her obsession with Li Hongzhi and his heretic theories, with the help of two former activists already transformed.

The woman named Xia Yulan, 49, a former lecturer at a Party school, claimed that Falun Gong represents the law of the universe.

"What will happen if you persist in practicing Falun Gong inside the camp?"

"I don't practice Falun Gong here, because I have to obey the rules here just as Master Li Hongzhi told us to observe the law and disciplines wherever we stay," Xia said.

"Have you ever been beaten or suffered torture?" a journalist asked.

"No," she said with a firm voice, adding that "policewomen here are very kind to me, they care for my daily life and I am very grateful to them."

It has been alleged by Falun Gong organizations overseas that the Masanjia Re-education Camp, China's model camp for helping Falun Gong followers out of the mental control of Li Hongzhi, once undressed 18 of its inmates and tossed them into cells full of male prisoners. It was also claimed by the same organizations that disobedient inmates in Shenyang are beaten with electric batons, or sent to so called water cells or solitary confinement in a dark room.

"This is sheer fabrication, it's outrageous, and it insults our women police," Su Jing, head of the faculty, told the foreign press group right after they arrived.

"We even don't have a male prison or male camp nearby, and can any of you find a water cell or the so-called dark room here?" Su added when the group were visiting the facilities.

Su has been acclaimed by former Falun Gong activists for treating them as "sisters who went astray and were victimized by the Falun Gong cult." For the same reason, she was called "devil head" by the Falun Gong cult. She has received threatening letters every day. Her home phone number has been posted on the Falun Gong websites to encourage harassment calls.

Near the gate of the facility is a meeting room where five inmates were talking with their family, friends and colleagues. Visiting the 50-year-old associate researcher Li Fu from Shenyang University was vice-president of the university Liu Guiqin.

Liu said that the university leadership is happy to know that Li has abandoned her obsession with Falun Gong and he expects her to come back to the university to work when she is out.

"What brought you here?" the Associated Press writer asked Li.

"I printed more than 1,000 copies of Falun Gong fliers," she said with a guilty smile.

According to Zhang Chaoying, head of the Masanjia Re-education Camp, no one has been sent here merely for practicing Falun Gong. Printing Falun Gong fliers for dissemination is a minor offense according to a legislative decision on preventing and punishing cult activities.

Explaining the legitimacy of the correction system, Zhang said that the administrative measure has strict legal procedures and a custody decision has to be approved by a regulatory committee for re-education-through-labor, composed of representatives from police, judicials, labor departments and labor unions, women's confederations and youth leagues. The whole execution process is supervised by public prosecutors.

In classrooms, female police were lecturing on mental health, and laws on public demonstrations and protests. There were also many inmates who were attentively watching a video program on the origin of the universe.

According to Su Jing, the faculty chief, Li Hongzhi propagates too many myths on the creation of the universe as a foundation for his mental control over practitioners. And the English-language program with Chinese captions shown was expected to teach his followers the truth.

"The Falun Gong fallacies are mere deceptions," said Li Guoqin, in her 20s.

At the conclusion of the three-hour interview, Ned Colt with the NBC said that what he saw here "appeared to indicate that the rumors are not reality." And Chew Juai Fong with the Singapore Press Holdings said later in his story that "Falun Gong's attacks are not true."

John Leicester, the AP writer who speaks better Chinese than many Chinese do, said he has been writing Falun Gong stories for the past two years, but he has heard too much from the Falun Gong side.

He said he is not going to say who is right or wrong, but will tell what he saw. Such stories will be "interesting," he said.

(Xinhua 05/23/2001)

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