Former Tiananmen student protest leader Xiong Yan has called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to allow him to return home to bury his mother.
Xiong, 50, was briefly detained at Hong Kong's border with China in April when he tried to visit his then terminally ill mother.
His plight mirrors that of dozens of exiled pro-democracy activists and prisoners of conscience, many of whom have been repeatedly denied permission to return to China, and whose families back home often suffer severe political persecution as a consequence of their activism.
"I wanted to go back ... but [it didn't seem] to be possible," Xiong told RFA on Wednesday.
"I want to ... call on the Chinese government to allow me to attend my mother's funeral," said Xiong, who has conducted dozens of funerals as an army chaplain.
"This is an emphatic demand and a sincere plea within the compass of normal human feeling," he said.
Xiong, now a U.S. citizen based in Texas, recently sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and the Chinese consulate in Houston asking for a visa to return to the central province of Hunan to visit his dying mother.
He received no reply.
A former law student at China's prestigious Beijing University, Xiong has previously served a 19-month sentence of "reform-through-labor" for his active role in the student-led pro-democracy movement at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests.
Many activists shut out
Xiong fled China following his release, arriving in the U.S. in 1992, where he joined the U.S. Army and later served as chaplain in Iraq.
Xiong says he has carried around the grief of the separation from his elderly mother for many years.
"When I got the news, even though I knew my mother could die at any moment and I was psychologically prepared, I began to shake all over and the tears ran down my face with no control," he told RFA.
"I put my food down and couldn't eat another mouthful."
"I feel extremely guilty because even though my mother understood [why I was in this situation], she missed her son and worried about me for the past 26 years," he added.
Friends and relatives have sent him regular updates and photographs about his mother's last weeks, he said.
"In the past two months, I have seen my mother lying in a hospital bed, getting thinner day by day," he said.
"My friends and relatives have been sending me photos of her every day. I am so grief-stricken it's hard to talk about it."
In an interview with RFA in 2010 to mark the anniversary of bloody military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement, Xiong described the movement as a bid for humanity and freedom on the part of the Chinese people.
"They wanted to be human; they wanted freedom," he said. "It was an inner state that had as its starting point the desire for some kind of dignity."
He said the remembrance of the dead of June 4, year after year, is an important political task for the nation.
"Even though the dead have still to rest in peace, and even though their murderers have not yet been brought to justice, I think that there is a strength in the continued memories that we revisit, year after year after year," he said.
Chinese border authorities frequently refuse re-entry to some rights activists who travel overseas, even if they hold valid Chinese passports.
In 2009, Shanghai-based activist Feng Zhenghu was denied re-entry to China eight times after visiting Japan for medical treatment, and spent 92 days living in Tokyo’s Narita Airport in 2009-2010.
In the same year, Shanghai-based dissident writer Li Jianhong, who also carried a valid Chinese passport, was barred from returning to China across the internal immigration border with the former British colony of Hong Kong.
Li, also known by her pen name Xiao Qiao, is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, has written extensively on freedom of expression, and was an early signer of the Charter 08 manifesto, in which Chinese intellectuals called for greater freedom.
And Hong Kong resident Liu Jiayi, a member of the Tiananmen Mothers victims group, was turned back in October 2009.
Reported by C.K. for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.