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Rounded up into torture camps: the 'undesirables' China doesn't want you to see

August 17, 2008

By Andrew Malone
The Daily Mail (UK)
August 16, 2008

The bleak concrete walls topped with razor wire and the sentries in
towers at the gates are a chilling reminder of a different era.

On the nearby roads, heavily armed guards patrol relentlessly,
checking both drivers and pedestrians, constantly alert.

Meanwhile, less than 30 miles away, the world's attention is focused
on the world-famous 'Bird's Nest' Olympic stadium and the other
venues where a global audience of two billion is watching the Games
and enjoying the spectacle of the 'new' China.

Olympic security

The Beijing regime has deployed an army of 500,000 smiling volunteers
to help foreigners find their way around the teeming capital city.

Blades of grass have been individually combed. Signs have been
erected in English.

Spitting has been banned and taxi drivers have been told to wear ties.

But there's none of that here in the suburb of Daxing, where the only
'venues' are the five camps into which thousands of China's
'undesirables' have been swept from the streets of Beijing and locked up.

Here, down bumpy, unlit roads, is where old habits die hard for
China's brutal totalitarian communist regime.

These camps are being used to imprison  -  without trial or legal
representation  -  people that the regime wants the world to believe
do not exist amid the miracle of modern China.

 From street children, hawkers, the homeless and prostitutes, to the
mentally ill, black migrants, drug dealers and gays caught in public
bathhouses, the camps on the outskirts of the city started filling up
with Beijing's 'undesirables' last year as part of the Chinese
regime's determination to present what it sees as an acceptable face
to the world.

It is all eerily reminiscent of the build-up to the 1936 Games in
Berlin, when the government cleared similar 'undesirables' from the streets.

Under Hitler's regime many of the Nazi concentration camps bore the
slogan Arbeit macht frei (Work makes you free) at their gates.

In China, the camps bear the slogan 'Re-education Through Labour'.
(It's a peculiar irony that Beijing has been so determined to use the
English language to welcome the world, that street signs even bear
the chilling words.)

The camps themselves are festooned with banners in Mandarin Chinese
stating that 'you must be punished according to the laws of the
Olympics', and reveal the extraordinary lengths to which the Chinese
are prepared to go to in order to convince the world of the country's success.

Working up to 16 hours a day and held in cramped, unsanitary cells
with only one toilet bucket for dozens of inmates, the existence of
the jailed 'undesirables' is something China has done its best to hide.

The policy of 'people clearances' began last year and those taken in
were moved to the camps on the outskirts of Beijing, which were built
in the 1960s for the purposes of 'cleansing' the minds of dissidents
opposed to the state.

By using torture, brainwashing techniques and the use of heavy
labour, Chairman Mao was determined to convince opponents of the
error of their ways.

The camps have been used in more recent times to hold dissidents,
lawyers and followers of religions banned by the government.

But sweeps of the city ahead of the influx of foreign visitors have
meant these dissidents have been joined by a new list of victims, who
have until now been allowed to work freely in the capital.

Opening ceremony

The right image: Children in Chinese ethnic minority group dress
carry the Chinese flag at the Games' opening ceremony

Deploying thousands of undercover police, as well as uniformed groups
of youths wearing red shirts and armbands, strenuous efforts have
been made to ensure the city has been purged of all 'anti-social' elements.

African immigrants to Beijing have been rounded up from popular
tourist areas such as San li Tun, Beijing's equivalent of Soho.

The patrols of the red- shirted groups are constant. Even now, with
the Games under way, some residents are not safe from arrest and incarceration.

'Tony', a Nigerian entrepreneur who has lived in China for the past
three years, watched as dozens of his African friends were arrested
last month. He hasn't seen them since.

'I started running when I saw what was happening,' he told me. 'I've
heard they are in the camps. I'm just keeping my head down until you
lot [foreigners] go and hoping it all returns to normal.'

With the few remaining black people and some gay men banned from
entire areas, along with instructions from the authorities that they
should not be served in bars or restaurants, witnesses say thousands
of others have been bundled into unmarked vans and taken to the camps
on the outskirts of the city.

According to prison camp sources, who risk incarceration and torture
for simply speaking about what happens inside the camps, the
'undesirables' are separated into male and female groups.

They are then put to work in vast hangar-like sheds, where they are
forced to make chopsticks and soft toys  -  the very goods that are
being peddled on the streets of Beijing to tourists visiting the Olympics.

Inmates are forced to work through the night.

In some of the other camps  -  all located in the Tuan He district in
the Daxing suburb of Beijing, less than an hour's drive from the
Bird's Nest stadium  -  the ' undesirables' are forced to clean beans
and other Chinese foods  -  which are then sold by the communist
authorities to private businesses serving the influx of foreigners.

Punishment is brutal for those who try to resist. According to my
camp informant, women who do not work hard enough are stripped naked
for days on end  -  something regarded as particularly shaming in
Chinese society.

Another favoured method of punishment is called the Tiger
Bench  -  where 'undesirables' are forced to sit upright on a long
bench with their hands tied behind their backs. Their thighs are also
tied to the bench  -  and bricks placed under the feet to raise them
off the floor.

Human rights groups say some victims are forced to remain in this
position for days on end, causing excruciating pain.

Those who complain or refuse to eat in protest at their detention are
force-fed  -  with guards holding their mouths open and tipping food
down their victims' gullets, making them choke and vomit. There are
more than 1,000 of these camps located around this country of more
than 1.3 billion people.

In 2005, the authorities opened one Re-education Through Labour Camp
to United Nations investigators investigating claims that inmates
were being killed and their organs 'harvested' and sold to wealthy
Chinese desperate for transplants.

Nothing untoward was found. The camp had even been painted ahead of
the UN visit.

Dissidents claimed later that victims are transferred from camp to
camp whenever any brutality is discovered by outside bodies.

The sweep of the city is good news for the prison camp guards, who
are making extra money from the Olympics.

Sources say they are getting as much overtime as they want a result
of the thousands of 'undesirables' rounded up.

Phelim Kine, a spokesman for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said:
'The purge of migrants, sex workers and beggars during the Olympics
is a reflection of the obsessive concern that nothing can remain on
the streets that clashes with the government's carefully applied
veneer of  "stability" and "harmony".

'Beijing is unique for the unprecedented scale of the campaign to
sterilise the city ahead of the Games of elements embarrassing to the
Chinese government's status as a rising power.'

The existence of the camps  -  and the admission by Chinese officials
that people can be locked up without trial there for up to four
years  -  will add to the growing sense that Beijing is trying to
hoodwink the world; with the complicity of the International Olympic Committee.

After British journalists were roughed-up and detained in Tiananmen
Square this week, and a relative of the U.S. volleyball coach was
murdered by an unemployed Chinese man protesting about government
policies, Olympic officials stressed they were 'very proud' about how
Beijing 2008 is progressing.

When China won the rights to the Olympics, IOC president Jacques
Rogge boasted that hosting the Games would improve China's human rights record.

Tellingly, Wei Wang, a Chinese official, yesterday denied that his
country had made any such promises to improve human rights.

'After 30 years of reform, China has developed greatly. People enjoy
more freedom. People are living a good life. Everyone is happy.
That's a fact.,' he said.

'Of course, there are exceptions. But they need to take the legal
process and procedures to resolve any issues.'

Much the same could have been said in Germany in 1936  --  and it
would have had just as hollow a ring to it.

As Susan Bachrach, a historian and expert on the Berlin Games, says:
'Hosting the Olympics presented the Nazi leadership with an
extraordinary opportunity to project the illusion of a peaceful,
tolerant Germany under the guise of the Games' spirit of
international co-operation.

'That effort was largely successful, and the regime scored a major
propaganda victory.'
Beijing must hope that its propaganda effort will be every bit as effective.

The Chinese believe that at the end of the Games, the world will be
left with happy memories of a spectacular event.

But for those who were deemed 'undesirable' and dumped into prison
camps without trial, the memories of the 2008 Olympics will be very
different indeed.

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