New Year Grief For Lawyer's Family

The wife and children of a jailed Chinese rights lawyer spend their fourth Spring Festival without him.

Geng He and her son in an undated photo.

The exiled wife of jailed Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng wrote an open letter to her husband this week, as hundreds of millions of people traveled home to be with their families ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

Geng He, who fled China in 2009 to find a better life for the couple's two young children, said the family had written to Gao at a time when most Chinese make every effort to come together as a family in a reunion dinner at what is also called the Spring Festival. The holiday begins next week.

"The Spring Festival is nearly here, and while we are in the United States, we still have the same sense of the atmosphere back in China," Geng wrote in a letter she read out to Radio Free Asia's Mandarin service on Thursday.

"There will be poetry couplets and lanterns on sale in the supermarkets, and we can imagine the presents on New Year's Day," the letter said.

"But ... we also have feelings of great sadness, because I am alone with the children in America, without you, or any other family members," she wrote.

"This is the fourth Spring Festival in a row that you have been away from my side," Geng wrote.

She said the relative freedom experienced by her family since their arrival in the U.S. did little to lighten the family's mood.

"You are in a dark jail cell, and we can't speak with you freely or write letters to you, and we can't visit you," she said. "Because of this, we wouldn't feel happy even if we were in living in heaven."

"For now, Zhisheng, we will only be able to get together in our dreams," the letter said.

Fatherless children

Geng said she had so far not told her youngest child about Gao's exact circumstances. "I don't know how long I can carry on with this white lie," she added.

She said her son had been invited to attend a father-and-son event at his school, but had turned it down "because I don't have a dad," before drawing a picture of a small person, crying.

"I wrote to the teacher to say that the child's father is in China, a human rights activist suffering great persecution, and that we have had no word of him," Gao said. "The child asks for his father every day, but I have been keeping it from him."

"The teacher said my son would be welcome to come to class after the activity was over."

Convicted of subversion and put on probation for five years, Gao has been "disappeared" and tortured several times.

Last month, the authorities announced he would start serving a three-year suspended jail term just as his probation period ended, but there is still no news of his whereabouts or state of health.

Once lauded by China's ruling Communist Party, Gao fell foul of the government after he defended some of China's most vulnerable people, including Christians, coal miners and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Reported by CK for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.