Members of The Church of Almighty God are given lengthy prison sentences and are brutally pressured to give up their faith while in detention.
by Deng Jie
“I was forced to sit completely still for eight hours every day. As a result, my ankles hurt so much that I could not stand straight,” Sun Yuying (pseudonym), a member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), told Bitter Winter as she started describing her three years of detention. “I had to bathe in cold water even in winter. When two ‘cell bosses’—the leaders of inmates—saw me shiver, they commented that I deserve this because I ‘have committed a crime.’”
Sun Yuying’s “crime” was membership in the CAG, the most persecuted religious movement in China, which in 1995 was included in the list of the xie jiao, one of the CCP’s primary tools of religious persecution. Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code states that being active in a xie jiao organization may result in a prison sentence of three to seven years.
“At least 38 inmates lived in one cell, so I had to step over sleeping or sitting cellmates when going to the toilet,” the woman described her living conditions in a detention house. “We were given half-cooked rice every day, almost no vegetables. Some cellmates had no bowel movement for ten days.”
A month into her detention, Sun Yuying started experiencing growing pain in her waist from sleeping on the damp floor and bathing with cold water. A doctor in the detention house insisted that she was “healthy” and refused to give her medication. She could barely sleep from the pain, and her condition was getting worse day by day. One early morning, 15 minutes after she started her sentry duty, she fainted.
More than a year later, she was transferred to a local women’s prison. During a physical examination, the prison doctor determined that Sun Yuying had a 3-cm displacement of one of her intervertebral discs and had developed a kidney stone. She was prescribed three pain-killer tablets every month.
For Sun Yuying, the spiritual torment was harder than the physical pain. It became unbearable when she was transferred to a special cellblock for members of the CAG and Falun Gong, where every means imaginable are used to force these people to give up their faith.
Every day, prison guards forced her to watch government-produced indoctrination materials against the CAG and demanded to write down her thoughts about them every ten days. They also constantly pressured her to write statements of confession, guarantee, and repentance, which would mean that she gave up her faith. Even when she was back in her cell, two cell bosses, instructed by the guards, took turns monitoring and indoctrinating her. To prevent her from praying, they followed her even when she went to the toilet.
Every time she refused to sign statements renouncing her faith, the cell bosses would beat and abuse her, deprive her of sleep as a punishment.
“I was so distressed just thinking about the things I was forced to write and the demands to give up my faith that I started thinking of suicide,” Sun Yuying remembered. She twice attempted to strangle herself with her pajama pants but was discovered by guards.
After her release, Sun Yuying spent time in a hospital to treat the intervertebral disc, a popliteal cyst on her left knee, and the kidney stone. She even underwent an operation, after which she had to spend some time in bed to recuperate. The CCP did not stop persecuting the seriously ill woman even then. They made constant follow-up visits to her, harassing and surveilling her.
Sun Yuying is one of the numerous elderly CAG members who are persecuted in China.
A 72-year-old woman from the northeastern province of Liaoning was beaten and kicked by the police for evangelizing in the winter of 2012, breaking one of her ribs. She was kept in detention for ten days, where police officers forced her to take cold water baths. In 2018, she was taken in by the police and interrogated, even though she could barely speak because of lung cancer. The woman died ten days after her release.
An 81-year-old CAG member from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China was detained for eight months in 2015 for attending religious meetings. He fainted four times during his detention, but guards turned a blind eye. He was later sentenced to one year and six months in prison on the charge of “using a xie jiao organization to undermine law enforcement.”
For two years, government officials repeatedly visited the home of a 78-year-old CAG member in the eastern province of Jiangsu, they also often summoned him to their offices. To avoid further harassment, the man started moving from one relative or friend to another every month. In 2017, he was sentenced to three years in prison on the same charge, even though he suffered from cerebral and myocardial infarction, hypertension, and other illnesses.
A 75-year-old CAG member from the eastern province of Anhui was arrested for his belief twice in ten years. While in detention, he was frequently mistreated, beaten, and forced to heavy labor.