NEW YORK - A Falun Gong practitioner detained on the opening day of the Beijing Olympics died in a prison camp in northeastern China on January 14, 2010, the Falun Dafa Information Center learned this week. Mr. Yu Zhongzhu (于忠柱) from Heilongjiang is already the second Olympic prisoner whose death the Center has reported in 2010 (news). In the run-up to and during the Games, over 8,000 Falun Gong practitioners were detained by the authorities, many of whom have since been sentenced to RTL or prison camps. Yu was 39 years old when he died.
“This tragic death once again highlights the price that victims of the Olympics 'strike hard' campaign are paying long after the closing ceremonies," says Falun Dafa Information Center spokesperson Erping Zhang. "It is also a stark reminder of the very real danger to life and limb facing every Falun Gong practitioner pulled off the street and ‘sentenced’ to one of China’s prison camps."
On the evening of August 8, 2008, over a dozen agents from the local police and 610 Office (link), abducted Yu, his wife Ms. Sun Lijuan, and six other Falun Gong practitioners. In December 2008, the eight were “sentenced” in sham trials to prison terms ranging from three to six years. Judge Li Hengjiang from Hanjiayuan Court gave Mr. Yu a six-year term because of his identity as a Falun Gong practitioner.
Yu’s case was one of over 800 incidents of long prison sentences meted out to Falun Gong practitioners since early 2008 that the Center reported last month (report). Following the end of the Beijing Olympics and ongoing criticism from the United Nations and foreign governments of the Chinese authorities’ use of extrajudicial means to detain Falun Gong practitioners, the Center has observed a sharp increase in the number of judges “sentencing” practitioners to prison camps under orders from Party officials. In place of one to three years detention in an RTL camp, practitioners now face illegal incarceration for much longer.
In April 2009, Yu was transferred to Talai Prison, where he was reportedly abused in custody. On January 14, his family received a call from the prison authorities asking them to go to the facility’s hospital because Yu was in critical condition. Upon arriving at the prison, Yu’s relatives were prevented from carrying cameras or cell phones into the facility. They witnessed Yu’s death at 10pm that evening.
The authorities cremated Yu’s body two days later, before an autopsy could be conducted and without the family’s permission. Though contrary to Chinese and international law, such actions to cover-up signs of abuse are common practice in cases where Falun Gong practitioners die in custody from torture-related injuries.
Yu’s wife continues to be held at Harbin Women’s Prison after herself being “sentenced” for four years. It is unknown whether she is aware of her husband’s sudden death. Prior to his detention, Yu had worked at Guyuan Forestry Farm and was a resident of Guyuan Town of Songling District in Daxinganling region.