Lens, a monthly Chinese magazine, last week published horrifying tales of abuse at a police-run women’s labor camp that has as many as 190,000 inmates at any given time—and the story caused a sensation before the state’s propaganda authorities shut down all publication of the magazine. Yuan Lin, an investigative journalist for Lens, writes that traditional methods of torture were routine in the camp, and he said he met women from other camps who said similar torture occurred. Yuan said he spent five years interviewing prisoners from labor camps, with one 62-year-old former inmate even telling him that she left the Masanjiao reeducation camp with a rolled-up diary written on waterproof material, hidden in her vagina, so she could share the tales of what went on. Physical abuse, including hogtyings and beatings, was common, with some women even being crippled by it. Some of the abuses outlined included “hanging up high,” or suspending a woman by stretched-out arms; “tiger bench,” when a woman was seated on a bench, tied down at the waist, and then a brick was inserted underneath her knees; and “dead person’s bed,” or a woman being tied to a bed with her legs spread, possibly with a hole to defecate.
It wasn’t until now, with recent reforms, that Yuan thought he could even publish them—except the state-run propaganda office promptly shut down the publication of Lens shortly after the issue dropped. But one article has survived the purge: an interview with Yuan in the China Women’s Newspaper, which is published by the All-China Women’s Federation, a Communist Party organization—which could in itself be a sign that reform of the prison system might be on its way in China.