Jailed for her religion, forced to work 19-hour days making cotton buds: the story of Chen Zhenping

Ever wondered where your cotton buds come from? (that’s Q-tips for American readers – the things you clean your ears out with but aren’t really meant to).
No, me neither. Maybe we should.

Amnesty’s just heard about the case of Chen Zhenping, an imprisoned Chinese woman who follows the Falun Gong spiritual movement (basically a fusion of Buddhism and Tai Chi – very popular in China, but banned by the government as an ‘evil cult’). 

A fellow inmate told us that Chen is being forced to work a 19-hour day making cotton buds and rugs, with beatings if she fails to reach production targets. The remaining five hours are spent sleeping on the floor of a cell she shares with over 30 other prisoners. 

Chen was arrested on 9 July, without a warrant.  We suspect she had no legal representation at her trial. Her family have not been allowed to see her since the arrest, but they’ve been told that she was sentenced to between 7 and 15 years’ imprisonment (though no official notification has been sent to them). 

It’s a really upsetting story, the worst I’ve heard from China for some time.  

Her family are very worried about her, as they heard on 28 October that Chen’s signature had been forged in a register that detainees have to sign when they receive food from relatives. If she is being deprived of food, it sadly wouldn’t be untypical of the treatment of Falun Gong prisoners. 

Falun Gong practitioners are frequently subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Many are held in Re-education through Labour camps, where people can be locked up without trial for up to four years.  Falun Gong sources reported over 8,000 arrests of practitioners nationwide in the run-up to the Olympics, and say that in 2007 over 100 of them died in detention or shortly after being released due to torture, starvation and lack of medicine. 

Amnesty members are writing to the Chinese authorities demanding guarantees of Chen’s safety, pending her unconditional release unless she’s charged with a criminal offence and give a fair trial. You can download a letter to send here.

I’m not suggesting a boycott of Chinese-made cotton buds, by the way – responsibility for what’s happened to Chen sits squarely with the Chinese authorities. But it does raise a few questions for consumers and retailers. I have no idea but I wonder how many of the big UK outlets do get their cotton buds from China? And of those, I wonder how many can demonstrate where theirs are made, and that people like Chen Zhenping aren’t making them? 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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