A journalist who was arrested and tortured for being a member of The Church of Almighty God tells his story as a prisoner of faith in China.
My name is Cao Liming, I was born on October 4, 1985, in Yucheng county, Henan Province. On June 20, 2008, I became a member of The Church of Almighty God, when I was in Henan’s Jiaozuo city.
Before I converted to Almighty God, I worked as a journalist since October 2006. My last job was working for Henan’s television station New Countryside Channel where I was in charge of interviews and editing for a show called Country Science and Technology. The interviews and coverage mainly included the latest scientific and technological achievements of the Academy of Agricultural Science; the achievements of rural cooperatives in promoting local agriculture; and reports about research, government inspection tours, and meetings or conferences attended by senior government officials responsible for agriculture.
During three months of my work at the station, I was not allowed to tell the truth and had no rights to produce any reports that were independent, impartial, and objective.
Everything featured on the show was completely false. For example, crop planting numbers were doctored, agricultural output was falsely reported, and government officials and Party cadres who claimed attending conferences or carrying out research were actually traveling the country eating, drinking, and enjoying themselves. Local residents had to spend large amounts of money to host these corrupt officials. We were forced to produce videos full of false promotional content advocating the “great performance” of the local government.
I found working at the TV station very oppressive. It became crystal clear to me that the Chinese media is a tool for spreading lies that glorify the Chinese government and deceive ordinary citizens. I felt lost: This country had no integrity, no hope. Only in The Church of Almighty God could brothers and sisters open their hearts and speak their minds to each other, without lies or deception. Here, my soul felt free; here, I could be righteous and honorable. I felt I had found direction in my life.
On December 8, 2012, I was arrested by about five police officers after I was reported by someone for spreading the gospel in Qiangetai village of Fengqiu county, under the jurisdiction of Xinxiang city in northern Henan. Police dragged me from the house without showing any warrant or giving any reason for the arrest. After subjecting me to vicious physical and verbal abuse in front of a crowd of villagers in the yard of the house, the police took me to an interrogation room that looked dark and chilly, on the first floor of the county’s Public Security Bureau building, where I was handcuffed to a freezing cold tiger bench – a torture device when victims are forced to sit on an iron bench with their knees tied together. Decembers in Henan can be extremely cold.
The interrogation began at about 3 p.m. and lasted for ten hours. I was so cold that I couldn’t stop shivering and lost all feeling in my lower body. The officers kept asking me for the whereabouts of my Church’s brothers and sisters. They beat and insulted me almost without cease. The handcuffs were clamped tightly to my left wrist, and they cut deep into my flesh, the bone beneath exposed. Blood dripped down my fingers; my whole wrist was a bloody mess, swollen and purple. It looked awful. Each time the officers beat me, it jerked my wrist, and the handcuffs cut deeper into my flesh. The pain was excruciating, I’ll never forget it – but all I could do at the time was clench my teeth and silently pray to Almighty God.
At just after 1 a.m. on December 9, I was accused of “disturbing social order” for being a follower of Almighty God and spreading the gospel and was sentenced to ten days of administrative detention and a fine of 500 RMB (about $74). I was forced to sign the detention notification and was later escorted to a detention center. During my time there, I continued to suffer interrogations, beatings, and torture from time to time. Interrogators repeatedly threatened to imprison me if I refused to disclose information about the Church.
When my ten days of detention were up, four police officers took me directly to the Fengqiu County Criminal Investigation Brigade, where an officer took my blood, fingerprints, and footprints, checked and noted my height, weight, as well as took my photo. After that, without any explanations, the same four officers escorted me to the Fengqiu County Detention House. When I was asked to sign some paperwork before being admitted, I refused. One of the officers slapped me hard on the face and then kicked me brutally in the waist. It hurt so much I almost fell to the ground. It was not until about one week later I was handed a written notice informing me that public security authorities are accusing me of committing crimes for believing in God and spreading the gospel in different places in the area and sentenced me criminal detention.
In the detention house, I was locked up in a 20 to 30 square meter cell. The moment I entered it, I was hit by the stench and saw that more than 20 people were crowded together. I soon found out that among them, there were murderers, robbers, drug dealers, rapists, swindlers, gang members, people charged with corruption, thieves, etc. The cell was dark and damp; there was no sunlight all day long. It was like hell; an atmosphere of terror permeated every corner. My guard Zhang told the “leader” of the prisoners to “take good care of this believer of Almighty God” (me).
My first day in the detention house, the leader forced me to clean the toilet with my bare hands and sleep next to it. I lay on the freezing cement floor, my body trembling with cold. I had nothing to provide even a little warmth. The next day, the leader forced me to take off all my clothes and then poured basin after basin of freezing water over my head. This brutal treatment left my lips blue and my body as cold as a popsicle. For each meal, I was only given one steamed bun, hard as stone and very difficult to swallow. These buns were nowhere near enough to fill me up, and on several occasions, I almost passed out from hunger.
The police threatened they wouldn’t stop torturing unless I tell them the whereabouts of other Church members. In less than half a year, my weight dropped from 93 to 72 kilograms. Unable to bear this abuse and mistreatment, for a time my thoughts turned to suicide as a way of escaping my agony. But in the darkest and most hopeless days of my life, I recalled the words of Almighty God: “God wants the testimony of the living, not the dead… If you have but one breath, God will not let you die.” It was only with the leadership and guidance of Almighty God’s words that I regained the conviction and strength to carry on living. Around May 2013, I asked to hire a lawyer to defend me but was rejected.
In June 2013, my trial was held at the Fengqiu County People’s Court in Xinxiang. The Court neither arranged a defense lawyer for me nor informed any of my relatives about my trial. The proceedings lasted for about an hour. The judge said, “As long as you believe in God and spread the gospel in China, you have already violated Chinese criminal law and constituted a crime.” About a month after the trial, the judge who tried my case came to the detention house and sentenced me to three years in prison charged with “organizing and using a xie jiao organization to undermine law enforcement” and asked me to sign the judgment on the spot. I asked for an appeal but was rejected by the judge.
On July 20, I was transferred to the First Prison of Henan Province. Each week I had to attend at least two intense indoctrination classes, and every day I worked close to 20 hours making handmade ornaments in the “education group” for newly-admitted prisoners. I was only allowed to use the toilet twice every day, and for a limited amount of time. If I was deemed to be performing poorly or slowly, I was subjected to beatings and physical punishment. It left me mentally drained and physically exhausted. Besides, prison guards kept threatening me and forcing me to write the so-called “three statements” (a confession, repentance, and declaration of breaking off ties with the church) aimed at making me renounce my beliefs and betray Almighty God. When I refused to do so, they incited the other prisoners to bully me and arranged for someone to keep watching me 24 hours a day, never leaving my side when I ate, slept, or went to the toilet.
I was not allowed to pray or talk to other followers of Almighty God. Guards also found various reasons to harass, punish, and humiliate me. Numerous times, I was physically punished and beaten. When the punishment and beatings were over, a new round of abuse would begin anew.
Once during work, I suddenly felt pain in my stomach, so I took a sip of water to ease it. After a guard saw this, he immediately took me to the guards’ office and accused me of being lazy and pretending to be ill. He ordered me to squat in front of him and kicked me on the face. Then, more squats and another hard kick on the head. I couldn’t remember how many times he booted me. He made me squat until my legs gave up.
In prison, the guards used every means they could to cause me physical harm and trample my dignity. In their eyes, I was less than an animal. Each day in this fear-filled hell brought me ever closer to the brink of mental collapse.
One day, brother Xie Gao, a fellow believer, passed me a slip of paper with words of Almighty God. Our encounter was captured on cameras and caught the attention of a correctional officer named Zhu Yumin. He ordered a brigade leader surnamed Ma to haul me to his office. There, officer Zhu ordered me to take off all my clothes; he wanted to find evidence that brother Xie Gao had given me that slip of paper. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, my heart was racing, and my backbone was covered with cold sweat. If he found that slip brother Xie Gao had given me, he would hand us over to the enhanced security unit. When he failed to find anything, he threatened me and told me if he found out that brother Xie Gao and I communicated again, he would make my life hell until I was brought to the brink of death. More than once, I was told by a fellow inmate that if one was sent to the enhanced security unit, his fate would be either dead or disabled as a result of their inhumane torture.
The enhanced security unit was so nightmarish that it is beyond my ability to describe. Brother He Zhexun, who was a higher-level leader of the Church, was arrested at the same time as brother Xie Gao. He was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment. From the first day in prison, he was locked up in the enhanced security unit. He could barely communicate with anyone and was also made to wear a GPS tracking device on his wrist to record his every move and word. He was still imprisoned in the unit when I got out of prison.
In the adjacent ward to mine was brother Ban Rongge (in his 30s) before he was sent to the enhanced security unit after he was spotted passing a slip of paper with words of Almighty God to another inmate, also a member of the Church. About three or four months later, when I saw him again, his right hand was deformed as a result of the severe beating, and his hair had turned completely white. I saw him trudging forward, one step at a time, his head hanging down. His eyes looked dull, and he seemed disoriented. He looked like someone in his late 50s or early 60s. Later, I found out that though he was released, his mind had broken because of the brutal torture, and he was no longer able to take care of himself.
One day, I was passing by the entrance to the inmate work area when I saw a nurse giving CPR to an inmate in an ambulance. Someone was standing there and recording what was happening. I asked the prisoner next to me why they were filming the nurse trying to save the prisoner’s life. He said, “You don’t know? That man is already dead. The nurse is pretending to save his life for the sake of his family. When the police beat someone to death, they record them hooked up to an IV drip or being shocked with a defibrillator so that they can tell the deceased’s family that they had died unexpectedly of natural causes. It’s very common in prison. It’s like hell here; prisoners are often tortured to death.”
On December 8, 2015, I was finally released after having served my three-year sentence. Two civil servants, one from Judicial Bureau of Jiaozuo city and the other from my father’s work unit, “escorted” me back to Jiaozuo and arranged for the city’s Public Security Bureau to keep a close watch on me. They ordered me to use a cell phone number registered under my name (the Chinese government requires every citizen to present their identity card number while applying for a cell phone number; if they don’t, a cell phone number would not be given) and keep my cell phone on 24 hours a day so that I could be summoned up whenever they deemed necessary. They even said that I would be severely punished and sentenced if I was found to be a follower of Almighty God still – they could beat me to death with impunity!
I didn’t dare return to my family or have any contact with my brothers and sisters from the Church, for anyone discovered associating with me would be suspected of believing in Almighty God, and thus, risked being arrested or even sentenced. Unable to handle the constant monitoring, I decided to go into hiding.
In the six months after my release, I lived alone and in constant terror. I was afraid to have any contact with people. My heart would race at the slightest noise outside. I found it difficult to sleep and was frequently startled awake in the middle of the night. The years of barbaric abuse and torture took a heavy toll on my health: I had a ruptured spinal disc, severely injured neck and shoulder, as well as other health issues. I had to rely on medication (antidepressants and sleeping pills) to get to sleep. There was a substantial deterioration in my memory, and my responses slowed down. An injury to my left arm during imprisonment left it damaged – I can only raise it 45 degrees, it has no strength, and my fingers are often numb.
One day in March 2016, my elder sister told me that one of her friends had sent her a text message asking where I’d been, and saying that officers from the Judicial Bureau had been going around asking for my whereabouts. In September 2016, I heard that the latest policy of the Chinese Communist regime was to re-arrest and lock up all Christians from The Church of Almighty God who had been arrested and imprisoned in the past. They were to be heavily sentenced. If I continued to believe in Almighty God in China, I ran the risk of being arrested and killed at any time. The thought of being re-arrested terrified me because those horrible, inhuman days were the worst nightmare of my life!
Later on, under the miraculous guidance of Almighty God, I used someone else’s household registration to get an ID card and passport with that person’s name on it but my photo. I used this passport to complete procedures for traveling overseas. On October 22, 2016, I fled to the United States where my fear of being detained, humiliated and tortured because of my faith in Almighty God gradually faded away. I truly sensed what human rights are, and what it means to have freedom of religious belief.
The persecution I experienced is only the tip of the iceberg. Countless Christians have been and are being persecuted at this very moment. It is my sincere hope that more of those who cherish righteousness will pay attention to the fact that the Chinese Communist regime brutally persecutes members of The Church of Almighty God; I hope that more people who believe in justice will pay attention to these prisoners of conscience, who have been imprisoned and have no voice.
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Author: Cao Liming