China's Youngest Prisoner of Conscience Reunited With Dissident Father

zhanglin-01262018.jpg Zhang Lin (L) and his daughter Zhang Anni (R) in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of the Zhang family.

Veteran Chinese rights activist Zhang Lin is scheduled to arrive in the United States on Friday to be reunited with his two daughters, who fled China after being denied schooling by the country's state security police.

Zhang's youngest daughter Anni was once dubbed "China's youngest prisoner of conscience" after she was denied schooling when he was under surveillance, U.S.-based women's rights activist Reggie Littlejohn said in a statement.

Anni and her elder sister Ruli left China for California after their father's arrest in August 2013, where they were taken in by Reggie Littlejohn, founder of the Women's Rights Without Frontiers rights group, and granted political asylum.

Anni was dubbed "China's youngest prisoner of conscience" after she was taken out of school by state security police and detained for several hours in February 2013, and prevented from attending school during her father’s house arrest.

After his daughters’ escape, Zhang and three fellow activists were jailed for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” for their role in the campaign for Zhang Anni’s place in school.

Zhang was released last August, but it was unclear whether he was still under surveillance, and whether he would be allowed to leave China.

"I can’t believe this is happening," Anni said in a statement issued by Littlejohn ahead of Zhang's arrival. "I’ve been waiting for this day for four years."

Littlejohn described Zhang as "a brave hero" who had made great sacrifices for the cause of human rights in China.

"I am overjoyed that he will be able to hug his precious daughters tomorrow.  He will be so proud of them," she said.

Littlejohn said Anni is now a straight-A student with perfect English and a promising pianist, while Ruli is now living and working independently while studying for a degree.

"They have made a brilliant transition to life in the United States," she said.

Zhang Lin has been detained several times for a total of 16 years for his pro-democracy advocacy in China.

At age 10, his daughter, Anni, was taken out of her fourth grade classroom and detained overnight by police in Anhui.

She was not allowed to attend school and she and her father were placed under house arrest, later making a daring bid for freedom by road that ultimately ended in Zhang's detention.

Littlejohn credited U.S. rights campaigner John Kamm, executive directo of the Dui Hua Foundation, with helping to arrange Zhang's reunion with his daughters.

The Dui Hua Foundation said Kamm first intervened on Zhang’s behalf in 1995, and raised his case on a trip to Beijing in January 2016.

"Dui Hua welcomes Mr. Zhang Lin's arrival in the United States," said John Kamm, Dui Hua's executive director. "It looks forward to his positive contributions to human rights and democracy in the years ahead."

New Jersey Republican Representative Chris Smith, co-chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, had been "instrumental" in helping Anni and her sister come to the United States, Littlejohn added.

Zhang pleaded not guilty to charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" at his trial in Anhui's Bengbu city in December 2013, telling the court his actions had been "reasonable and lawful" at all times and were a response to the illegal actions of the authorities.

A former member of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP), Zhang was sentenced to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment by the Bengshan District People's Court.

The sisters aren't the only children of veteran dissidents from China's 1989 pro-democracy movement to be targeted by the authorities, and many other dissidents' families have suffered economic hardship as a result of long-term unemployment.

Many activists imprisoned after the 1989 military crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing married late after serving lengthy jail terms, and their children are still relatively young.

Reported by RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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