The wife of jailed rights activist Zhang Haitao, a critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's treatment of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, has landed with the couple's young child in the United States after fleeing China via Thailand, a U.S.-based Christian rights group has said.
Li Aijie "has safely landed in the United States after a rescue operation," along with the couple's son Li Mutian, Texas-based ChinaAid said in a statement on its website at the weekend.
Li fled China with her son after being targeted for threats by local authorities after Zhang was handed a 19-year jail term by the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi, regional capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang, on Jan. 15, 2016.
Zhang was found guilty of "incitement to subvert state power" and spying charges after he openly criticized government policy towards the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group in the troubled region.
The prosecution cited cited 69 posts to the Chinese social media platform WeChat and 205 Twitter posts and reweets, as evidence of inciting subversion of state power.
Li, who gave birth to the couple's son shortly after he was jailed, and was left with no income, relying on relatives for financial support, she told RFA at the time.
But ChinaAid said she faced abuse within her family as well as threats from officials.
"Li, a stalwart advocate for her husband, not only received constant threat by various China security agents but also was beaten by her own relatives for refusing to divorce him," the group said in a statement.
"Government agents threatened to compromise Li’s brother’s job and interrogated her 80 year-old mother to pressure them into convincing Li to divorce Zhang," it said.
It said Li had escaped China "covertly," with the help of ChinaAid and other friends.
Group founder Bob Fu thanked the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. officials in various departments, embassies, and consulates for their speedy assistance, especially those in Thailand, China and Hong Kong.
"I thank God for such a beautiful Christmas present, that Li Aijie and her two-year-old son ... have been able to arrive successfully in the U.S. after braving great risks and dangers," Fu said.
"This will be their first Christmas spent in freedom," he said, adding: "We hope that Zhang Haitao will regain his own freedom."
Former Hong Kong Democrat Party leader and legislator attorney Albert Ho was a key member of the rescue strategy as well, Fu said.
Zhang, 46, was initially detained on June 26, 2015 on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," but the charges against him were later changed to the more serious subversion and spying charges.
He posted articles online that were critical of Beijing's record in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, and where hundreds have died in a string of violent incidents in recent years.
The court said it had handed down a longer jail term because Zhang had "colluded" with overseas organizations.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Kou Tianli for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.