Some Chinese Christians are reporting the operation of mobile, underground brainwashing units on the part of the Chinese Communist Party as part of broader institutional efforts to suppress religious communities who don’t adhere to the state’s standards for worship.
Reports describe horrific facilities that can be “set up in some basement somewhere” where Protestants, Catholics, and Falun Gong practitioners are subject to horrific psychological and physical torture for failing to demonstrate sufficient loyalty to the authoritarian state.
According to a report from Radio Free Asia, a member of a house church in the Sichuan province of China who used the pseudonym Li Yuese said he was held in one of these torturous units where he sank into utter despair as government officials tried to convince him to renounce his faith.
Li was kept in a facility managed by the CCP’s United Front Work Department and the state security police for 10 months after his home church was raided in 2018.
RFA noted that his account is similar to those who have been held in “transformation” camps in the northwest Xinjiang province where Uighur Muslims are subject to inhumane detention, torture, and other forms of persecution, something which is receiving global critique from the global community.
“They use really underhand methods,” Li said of his experience. During his detention, Li, who refused to agree with a statement the CCP prepared for him, said he was kept in a windowless room for nearly 10 months where he lost all sense of time and even attempted self-harm by banging his head against the wall of his cell.
“They threaten, insult and intimidate you. These were United Front officials, men, women, sometimes unidentified, usually in plain clothes. The police turn a blind eye to this,” he explained of his abusers.
“You have to accept the statement they prepare for you,” he said. “If you refuse, you will be seen as having a bad attitude and they will keep you in detention and keep on beating you.”
His further account from RFA is bone-chilling:
“They were using brainwashing methods on those of us who were on bail from the detention center,” he said. “It was in a secret location, in a basement.”
“There were two plainclothes officers in my room, and a uniformed officer was in another room,” Li said.
“There were no windows, no ventilation and no time allowed outside,” he said. “I was given just two meals a day, which were brought to the room by a designated person.”
Inmates who refused to “admit their mistakes” were held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods.
“There is no time limit for the brainwashing process,” he said. “I don’t know the longest time anyone has been held there, but I was detained for eight or nine months.”
“You can’t see the sun, so you lose all no concept of time.”
Another source who spoke with RFA anonymously shared a similar chilling experience of persecution of underground Catholics and practitioners of Falun Gong.
A lawyer from the northern province of Hebei said he had represented a number of former Catholic detainees.
“I was asked to go to Baoding by underground Catholics in 2013,” Zhang, the lawyer, said. “These brainwashing places were similar to the ones used on the Falun Gong.”
“I saw several of their priests at that time, and they told me what was happening there in Baoding.”
“After the religious affairs officials had arrested the bishops and priests, they didn’t pursue criminal charges — they just disappeared them, sometimes for five, six or even 10 years at a stretch.”
“Some were sent back home after five or six years, and that was how people learned about the brainwashing centers — from their accounts,” he said.
Zhang also said he suspects that Baoding is just the tip of the iceberg and that many such facilities have been operating across China for some time.
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