Inside China’s secret brainwashing centres: ‘People only see what the government wants them to see’.
From the outside it looks like any other holiday village in China.
But hidden inside one of the region's picturesque mountains is a dark and forbidding 'brainwashing centre' where government officials routinely carry out horrific acts of abuse and torture on Falun Gong practitioners.
Falun Gong - a spiritual meditation based on the guiding principles of "truth, compassion and tolerance" - was outlawed as a "dangerous cult" by the ruling Communist party in 1999 because of its popularity.
The Chinese government has been mercilessly persecuting Falun Gong practitioners ever since by torturing, killing and locking them up in 'black jails' - a network of extra-legal labour camps and detention centres established by the Communist Party to detain citizens without charge or conviction.
Some of those who escaped persecution and resettled in Australia after being granted refugee status have shared their shocking stories with news.com.au in a bid to expose the scale and severity of the human rights abuses in China and help bring them to an end.
Detainees who don't agree upon arrest to change their beliefs are sent to brainwashing centres for "re-education" where they are immersed in propaganda and brutally tortured physically and psychologically until they sign a waiver renouncing their beliefs. It's a government-run system so secret it doesn't even officially exist. The goal: To wipe out Falun Gong.
Chemical technology student Jintao Liu, 36, was first taken to the mountain in an unknown location after police found Falun Gong books on his computer in November 2006.
"They took photos of the Falun Gong books as evidence of my 'crime' and took me to the brainwashing centre," Mr Liu told news.com.au. It was dark when he arrived.
"Outside I didn't know where I was, there was no sun or anything," Mr Liu said.
"The area looked like a holiday village. The centre was inside a mountain, a room. They use some of the buildings and houses there. Outside people don't know [what goes on inside]."
Inside the mountain, Mr Liu lived in a tiny, pitch-black cell. He was let out only to be subjected to brainwashing techniques and torture.
"They force you to watch the videos that defame Falun Gong," Mr Liu said. "The videos use false cases or take the words out of the context to defame Falun Gong teachers or books."
Mr Liu stood defiant and refused to watch the videos during his stint in the facility.
"They have security there that would drag me to a room and force me to watch the videos," he said. "People were assigned to watch me, monitor me, force me, say bad words to me, and abuse me all the time."
Mr Liu was made to get up early every morning and do exercises because they stopped him from "doing Falun Gong meditation".
"After the brainwashing centre they couldn't change my belief so they moved me to a labour camp," Mr Liu said.
He was not charged or convicted of any crimes but would spend the next two years in captivity.
"After that they still continued brainwashing me, forcing me to watch the video to defame Falun Gong," he said.
The dungeon Mr Liu was held captive in was just one of many of China's brainwashing facilities established in abandoned houses, disused governmental buildings, remote hotels, and purpose-built compounds.
According to witnesses the centres are often disguised as institutions including schools and detention centres or tucked away out of sight in suburban areas.
Some victims have reported being shocked with electric batons, hung up by their wrists, stretched by their limbs until they break, and left in agonising pain for days as they are abused and taunted by guards, who promise that the torture will end if they simply give up their spiritual beliefs.
Falun Gong practitioner Xiao Chen, 43, was sent to a brainwashing centre during a three-and-a-half-year stint in a forced labour camp where she was tortured for refusing to renounce her beliefs. She was imprisoned without charge or conviction and torn from her baby son.
Ms Chen said officials put inmates through an intensive program of mental and physical torture that included beatings, prolonged interrogations, sleep deprivation and continuous exposure to video and audio propaganda.
"If we still refused to recant, we were sent to an isolated room," Ms Chen said.
"In the isolation room, you could not see the sunlight outside and we were forced to watch brainwashing videos against Falun Gong.
"We would spend the whole day inside, being brainwashed, forced to watch videos, punished by squatting and being deprived of sleep, for extended periods of time.
"They would not allow us to take any showers or anything for many days.
"I felt the police were too cruel, especially to us Falun Gong practitioners, as they would torture us until we died or had a mental breakdown."
Grandmother Fengying Zhang, 66, had a similar perience when she was sent directly to a brainwashing centre and severely tortured after being arrested in her home for practising Falun Gong in 2014.
Ms Zhang told news.com.au she was "cursed at", humiliated and tortured but that she never let the abuse break her or change her beliefs.
"The brainwashing centre is like a black jail," she said. "Those people never give up but it doesn't work."
Ms Zhang said the government stopped referring to the facilities as "brainwashing centres" after international pressure mounted on China to stop carrying out abuses against human rights.
"They changed the name of the centres to 're-education' but they do the same thing," Ms Zhang said. "If people outside China keep silent to such atrocities and human rights abuses then it's actually assisting evil and is going to put their conscience to trial in the future.
"The human rights abuses aren't only hurting the people in China, but also the whole world by threatening peace and human rights."
Mr Liu, Ms Chen and Ms Zhang still bare deep psychological scars from their experiences but are among the lucky ones who eventually escaped persecution in China and resettled in Australia. But they haven't forgotten the thousands of imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners left behind and the millions of citizens affected by oppression.
The brainwashing and abuse extends well beyond the confines of the 're-education' facilities' walls, they said.
"There's no freedom or free information," Mr Liu said. "All the media are state/government-controlled. So the media broadcasts the propaganda from the government.
"The education we all heard from childhood is about how great the communists are, how great the police are, how great the Chinese government is.
"So we grow up and we really believe that."
Mr Liu said it was only after he "personally experienced this torture by police [he] started to see the dark side of the communists".
"When I was tortured in the detention centre and labour camp, I was asking myself 'why are the policeman so bad and so evil?' And I started to see a different side to what was promoted in the media and education," he said.
"In China the people only see what the government wants them to see. They can't even get on social media, on Facebook. The Chinese people don't know the real facts because the information is blocked. A lot of people are poisoned and deceived by the propaganda and the lies.