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Case File

June 20, 2002

Massive violations exposed

The prisoners of Hunan Red Mountain Prison speak bitterness

While serving a 10-year sentence in Hunan Red Mountain Prison (Hunan No. 1 Prison), Zhang Shanguang, a leading labor rights activist, circulated an appeal that reveals the appalling conditions in the facility. The prison runs an electrical machinery factory, and is located in Yuanjiang City, central Hunan Province. The appeal documents punishments amounting to torture for prisoners who are unable to do the heavy work required of them or those who complain. It is unknown how many prisoners signed the appeal before the guards discovered it. However, a number of inmates, both common criminals and political prisoners, passed it around the prison for months.

The widespread use of torture in China has been extensively documented by human rights groups, as well as sometimes covered in the Chinese media. Although Chinese law officially forbids the use of torture, police and prison guards routinely use force to extract confessions or punish prisoners and are not held legally accountable for their actions. This is despite the fact that China is a party to the UN Convention Against Torture.

The appeal, smuggled out of Red Mountain Prison and translated below, is a rare insight into the experience of those incarcerated in penal facilities in China, and is a remarkable expression of the bravery of its author.

Where are our legal rights?

Prisoners appeal

When the numerous trials and hardships that the Chinese people have endured throughout China’s 5,000 year long history are taken into consideration, it seems China should be a country with a highly developed civilization. Indeed, it ought to be a brilliant era, especially under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the most advanced political party in our country. Democracy and the legal system are developing throughout the country, and people should be enjoying the sweet fruits of this modern, civilized land of happiness.

However, it seems modern civilization has bypassed the several thousand prisoners of Red Mountain Prison (Hunan No. 1 Prison), located on Dongting Hugu Island in Hunan Province.

It seems this place is still in the dark ages, stuck in time several thousand years ago when there was no legal system or civilization. Prison guards play the dual role of God and the law here. They have the power to turn wrong into right and white into black. They can claim prostitutes are women of virtue. Exploitation, oppression, brutality and violence are everywhere. Prisoners are trampled on like pigs and sheep and live in extreme misery.

Our Party and government have used the progressive achievements of human society to develop our laws step by step. But prisoners’ rights, prisoners who are not entirely devoid of humanity, are shredded like pieces of cheap toilet paper in the hands of the prison guards. It is a sad situation. Please take a look at the reality of life in here.

  • Insulting prisoners' human dignity

The Constitution stipulates: “The human dignity of the people is inviolable.” The Prison Law stipulates: “The human dignity of criminals shall not be humiliated; prison guards shall not insult the human dignity of the prisoners.”

In Hunan Red Mountain Prison, prisoners are kept like animals in cages. The prisoners are accorded no human dignity whatsoever. Prison guards slap prisoners in the face and force them to kneel. Guards often bind prisoners with thick rope and force them onto a stage, to conduct self-criticism sessions similar to those during the Cultural Revolution. At any time, guards can falsely accuse prisoners of not working hard enough, and pull their earlobes hard or beat him on the chest with a stick. Under these conditions, human dignity is like fallen leaves in the autumn wind.

  • Misuse of weapons of control, corporal punishment and maltreatment

  • The Prison Law stipulates: “Prison guards must refrain from using corporal punishment and maltreating the prisoners. Guards are not allowed to use weapons of control unless a prisoner attempts to escape, is violent, or engages in dangerous behavior during escort and it is necessary to take safeguarding measures.” The Regulations Regarding the Use of Weapons of Control stipulates: “When using weapons of control, guards should not physically harm prisoners.”

    In Hunan Red Mountain prison, guards frequently handcuff prisoners to basketball hoops, windows or brick columns. Both hands are often tied over the head with the feet, or only the toes, barely touching the ground. Prisoners who have been handcuffed in this manner for more than 30 days become extremely emaciated. Some prisoners were not able to eat, drink, or use the toilet. Their feet swell up. A few prisoners were handcuffed for such a long time, that they would climb up tall chimneys to commit suicide after being untied. Ropes are also used as weapons of control. Guards tie prisoners together like dead pigs; the ropes are so tight that the skin is torn. Many prisoners have scars from being tied like this that never heal.

    While in solitary confinement cells, prisoners are left without mosquito nets and insect repellent in the summer. They squat in dark, stuffy and unventilated rooms. During the day these prisoners are either subjected to self-criticism or forced to work. In the evening they are bitten repeatedly by infectious mosquitoes. Some prisoners in solitary confinement or who are so ill that they cannot work are deprived of their food rations. They are only given a meager two ounces of rice, and they do not receive any of the tiny bits of meat doled out every week. Corporal punishment and maltreatment has reached extreme levels!

  • Beating prisoners

  • The Prison Law stipulates: “The personal safety of the prisoners is inviolable. Prison guards must not beat the prisoners.”

    In Hunan Red Mountain Prison, guards beating prisoners is a common occurrence. Prisoners are punched and kicked, thrown to the floor, trampled on with boots and beaten with electric batons after being handcuffed. Guards will use anything to hit prisoners on the head or chest. Prisoners cannot fight back; they are beaten till they are full of scars, their bodies become deformed, they spit and shit blood, their teeth fall out, they turn into lunatics, they faint half-dead, or they jump off of buildings to commit suicide. Even oppressive feudal officials would seem only a fraction as cruel. Prisoners tremble and keep quiet out of fear.

  • Overwork

  • The Constitution stipulates: “Citizens have the right to rest.” The Labor Law stipulates: “The state should implement a labor system whereby workers do not work more than eight hours per day and 44 hours per week.” In 1995 the State Council stipulated: “The state should implement a five-day working week.” The Prison Law stipulates: “The prison guards should arrange the working hours of the prisoners with reference to the relevant national stipulations.”

    In Hunan Red Mountain prison, prisoners are deprived of the right to rest. Prisoners not only work on Sundays, we are forced to work for 12-13 hours a day, sometimes even 15-16 hours, sometimes throughout the night. After work, prisoners do not have a chance to sleep; the bell is already sounding for breakfast and the following day’s work again. It is a common sight to see prisoners spitting blood or falling into comas out of exhaustion in the workshops. Tuberculosis is spreading among us. Prisoners are terrified to be working in conditions that seriously undermine their physical and mental health. We turn pale at the mere mention of some things. Many prisoners would rather spend a long time in solitary confinement, than withstand such torment. In ancient China [as Mencius said], the official policies were sometimes as cruel and brutal as are tigers, but the people then had a choice [to withdraw from society, such as by becoming a hermit], whereas today’s prisoners have no such option. Our only choice is to take orders and meekly submit to oppression. The alternative is more corporal punishment, abuse and beating. Like a tiger with open jaws and an eye on its prey, the guards await you.

  • Poor quality of food

  • The Prison Law stipulates: “The living expenses of the criminals is based on the calculation listed in the state budget.”

    According to the state budget, the living expenses for each prisoner should be more than 100 yuan per month. In Hunan Red Mountain Prison, prisoners actually receive much less. Prisoners usually get cheap, coarse, stale rice and dirty vegetables. Two out of three meals a day will consist of soup, but not of the Zhongnanhai variety (white gourd, pumpkin, kelp). The ingredients of this soup are pickled vegetables and turnips that scrape your stomach. Only rarely will there be any oil in it. Prisoners should be served meat two or three times a week, but most of the time there are only five or six pieces; not even enough to feed a kitten. Sallow and emaciated prisoners generally stare blankly at their plates, not knowing whether they are humans or pigs.

  • The plight of prisoners who become ill

  • If a prisoner falls ill at Hunan Red Mountain prison, there is no one to provide care, and they are not allowed to rest. Prison authorities have a motto: “If you are ill, you are in the hospital. If you are not in the hospital, you should work.” Unless a prisoner is on the verge of dying, it is not likely he will be taken to hospital. If they cannot diagnose any illness after a rough check-up, and if the prisoner is not on the verge of dying, then the routine continues; prisoners will have to continue to rise early for work in the morning. If the prisoner refuses to work, he will be handcuffed and locked up, or taken to the workshop and accompanied everywhere he goes. He will only be given two ounces of rice at each meal.

    Sick prisoners spitting blood, who cannot finish their workloads, are often dragged into the “discipline office” and subjected to cruel torture. It is so unbearable, many prisoners contemplate suicide. Prisoners working under bright lights for such long hours suffer from serious eye strain, but the guards call them malingerers. Only when a prisoner is almost blind will guards leave him alone. Some prisoners vomit everything they eat, and turn into skeletons. Only on the verge of death are these prisoners permitted to lie down in a hospital. Others who are treated for tuberculosis are dragged back to work after three months while they are still taking medication.

    These are the miserable conditions that we have both witnessed and heard about. Prisoners cannot but feel extremely frightened, fearing that one day they will contract a serious illness.

  • Economic exploitation and plundering

  • According to the Prison Law: “The prison should reward prisoners who work in accordance with the regulations.”

    In Hunan Red Mountain Prison, prisoners are working under a forced labor system. We have nothing, and are offered zero compensation for our labor. Prisoners receive only five yuan a month from the government for pocket money. This is just enough to buy a bag of washing powder. We are expected to cover other expenses with this little money. If we don’t have toothpaste, a toothbrush, towel or a cup, all we can do is to pool money together from here and there.

    The State Council makes it clear that prisons are not allowed to impose random fees on prisoners. In Hunan Red Mountain Prison, authorities are forever developing new schemes to plunder hard-earned money from the families of the prisoners. When a prisoner first arrives, he pays a prison administration fee, an education fee and a physical examination fee. If he wants to send off material in the hope of reducing his sentence, he pays a fee for the material used. If he receives medical attention from outside the prison, he pays a guarantor fee. When family members come to visit they have to pay a reception fee. Fees have been imposed on prisoners for work they missed when they had visitors. If your family donates money they have saved by living frugally, you will be assigned a better type of work in the production process. Paying to be in prison, what a nightmare!!

  • No use complaining and reporting neglect to the authorities

  • The Constitution stipulates: “Citizens have the rightto report any dereliction of duty on the part of state bodies or officials to the relevant state authorities. The relevant state bodies are responsible for finding out the truth about citizen’s charges, and no one has the right to prosecute those filing complaints.” According to the Prison Law: “The right of prisoners to file complaints with the authorities should not be encroached upon. Prison officials must immediately register the complaints with authorities.”

    In Hunan Red Mountain Prison, the legal rights of prisoners are violated by the criminal behavior of the prison guards. Registered complaints are not responded to, and the problems remain unsolved. This means either prison officials are not registering the complaints with the authorities, or the authorities themselves simply do not care. Prison guards carry on their criminal behavior, prisoners who have filed the complaints are intimidated and beaten. Their books on legal matters are confiscated.

    According to the law, the People’s Procuratorate should assign a public procurator for prisoners, and the prisons should be supervised to ensure they are in compliance with the law. The People’s Procuratorate turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to the criminal behavior of the prison guards, which makes them complicit in the attacks on prisoners who attempt to file complaints. The current methods of supervision are mere display ornaments, and the efforts of the prisoners are in vain.

    Although the situation described above does not convey the totality of the misery we experience, it will suffice to clarify how inhuman and lawless our “reform environment” is. When our parents, wives, children and our brothers and sisters realize what takes place here; when they come to understand that we live like slaves in misery where people resemble ghosts, how their spirits will tremble, how they will grieve and shed blood! While most criminals should be punished, we are not to be chopped up like meat or fish. All we can do is accept the punishment that the law stipulates. In a civilized environment, we can hope to correct our mistakes and start over, and turn our backs on evil in pursuit of what is good. We long to return to society one day as law-abiding and disciplined citizens. We long to live like other free people in the world who leisurely enjoy life under the warm rays of the sun.

    If the prison guards are our sole example for model behavior, then souls that originally were only flawed are being destroyed. The guards steer us towards the black abyss of cruelty, graft, violence, contempt for the law and acting only for profit, a world far removed from modern civilized society. It is too easy to sink forever into a sea of bitterness where it is difficult to repent and be saved. Although there are a few decent police working in the prisons, the evil-doers make them as strong as straw in a storm. Lacking the ability to change the situation, they just shake their heads and sigh.

    Many people have cried out during long and fierce struggles. Today, our struggle is to implement laws that protect prisoners’ rights. These laws are part and parcel of advanced cultures and civilized societies. The Chinese Communist Party, representing the advanced culture of Chinese society, cannot ignore that the legal rights of prisoners have been trampled on. Because we do not want to lose all faith in the government, we make the following requests so that the legal rights of prisoners are not reduced to empty words.

    • Look into the legal, administrative, penal and civil responsibility of guards who subject prisoners to indignities, corporal punishment, maltreatment and beatings. Illegal “prisons within prisons” and “severe control troops” should be abolished.

    • Except in special circumstances, prisoners should not be made to work more than eight hours a day. We should be allowed to rest on Sunday. Robbing prisoners of the right to rest amounts to severe maltreatment. Prisoners should be rewarded for their work, and those who produce beyond the production target should be given bonuses.

    • The prison should not allow prisoners to monitor other prisoners, and the so-called “prisoners committees” must be abolished. The prisoners should only receive disciplinary actions like warnings, records of demerit and temporary solitary confinement. As for sentence reduction or getting parole, the principle of equal treatment for all should be followed in accordance with the law. This will prevent some prisoners from receiving privileges by resorting to methods like bribery.

    • The management should be changed so as to guarantee that the living expenses the government allocates for the prisoners actually reaches them.

    • As for prisoners who are ill and in need of effective and timely treatment, prison conditions are limited. If it is not possible to diagnose and cure prisoners, we should be sent outside the prison for diagnosis and treatment, or perhaps sent outside for medical treatment in accordance with the law. Prisoners with contagious diseases like hepatitis and tuberculosis should not be locked up together with other prisoners.

    • The relevant state organs should investigate prisoners’ complaints and reports to the authorities. They should also notify the prisoners of the results of each investigation. If the legal rights of a prisoner are infringed, the prisoner has the right to report it to the news media. Prisoners should also have the right to have the case tried in a court of law and be offered legal representation. Courts should agree to hear such cases.

    • In accordance with the constitutional right to freedom of association, the relatives of prisoners should enjoy the right to establish social groups as long as they abide by the law. Prison supervision should be in accordance with the law to ensure that the prisoner’s legal rights are completely guaranteed.

    • If any of the prisoners who have signed this appeal are persecuted, their cases should be investigated according to the law.

    Our legal system is in tatters. We have lost our civilization. This country does not resemble a country, and these people do not resemble people. The Chinese people are in danger.

    We look toward the future and wait for modern civilization to reach within these high walls. Criminal souls will be saved only if the prison is managed in accordance with the law. We open our hearts and souls for the bright, powerful light of civilized society to come down upon us like a powerful storm.

    NB: Prison guards discovered and confiscated this appeal while I was collecting signatures for it. Prisoners who signed the appeal, including myself, were beaten and punished. Although this appeal expresses the opinion of a great number of prisoners, I am no longer collecting signatures in order to avoid further persecution.

    Yours sincerely,

    Zhang Shanguang

    March 15, 2001

    Compiled by Joseph Chaney

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