Scant Cheer for Chinas Dissidents at Lunar New Year


2007-02-17
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A Beijing woman outside a lunar new year display. Photo: AFP

HONG KONG—While millions across China have braved packed trains, planes, and buses to welcome the lunar Year of the Pig with extended family, relatives of those who fell foul of the ruling Communist Party will have little to celebrate.

Many of China’s political prisoners are serving jail terms because they criticized the government, shared sensitive information with others, or stood up for the victims of official abuse. Their families are rewarded with suffering at China’s most festive time of year.

The wife of Guangdong civil rights lawyer Guo Feixiong, still being investigated for “illegal business activities” after he handled high-profile civil rights cases involving allegations of official corruption in the sale of farmland, said she had been unable to find a job since losing the family’s main breadwinner.

“Last year I lost my job when my husband was detained. I have been looking, but I haven’t succeeded in getting another job yet,” Guo’s wife Zhang Qing said.

When people find out the reason why I'm looking for a job, the problems my husband is having, and they see three policeman on my tail, they don't dare to hire me.

“When people find out the reason why I’m looking for a job, the problems my husband is having, and they see three police officers on my tail, they don’t dare to hire me,” she told RFA’s Mandarin service.

Families struggle

“I am usually a very open-minded person, but this is a very hard time for me. But I maintain an optimistic attitude, because that’s the only way to keep the bad feelings at bay,” Zhang said.

The family of family planning activist Chen Guangcheng, currently serving a four-year jail term for exposing abuses of the family planning system in the eastern province of Shandong, said they could ill afford the absence of Chen, whose mother fell and broke a bone after his imprisonment in October, and was bed-bound for more than a month.

Chen's mother, who is in her seventies, said she was unable to feel happy during the festivities because she worried about her son constantly, to the point of not being able to sleep at night.

“I am very sad...I worry about him all day and all night. I can’t sleep at night,” she said, adding that the additional burden of looking after her had fallen to her daughter-in-law, Yuan Weijing, who already has two children.

“My husband should really qualify to serve his sentence under house arrest, because he is blind, and is unable to live without assistance. We have already submitted an application to the authorities but so far we’ve heard nothing,” Yuan said.

“This Spring Festival we will silently wish him well, hoping that he will find some small cheer, and perhaps get something a bit nicer to eat in prison,” she said.

Marriage request denied

Zheng Xiaochun is the younger brother of Zheng Yichun, who was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in 2005 for “incitement to subvert state power” after he posted an article on the Internet critical of the Chinese government. He said his brother was miserable in jail, and was unable to get proper treatment for his diabetes.

“We haven’t made any arrangements to celebrate," Zheng said. "He is in a very low mood, and none of us has the heart for it as a result. We’ve all been affected.”

He said Zheng Yichun’s girlfriend had visited the prison, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, and demanded that the authorities solemnize her marriage to Zheng. Her request was turned down by the prison authorities.

“They wouldn’t let her meet my brother either,” Zheng said. “But she said she felt better knowing that my brother was somewhere near. That’s a pretty amazing woman.”

Meanwhile, in Bengbu city, in the eastern province of Anhui, the wife of a cyberdissident was writing an entry in an online diary, looking back at the year just past. Fang Cao’s husband Zhang Lin was sentenced to five years in jail for publishing articles on the Internet relating to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang.

“In the blink of an eye, 2006 has already gone by,” she wrote. “What kind of a year has it been for me? It has been one of pain and misery, and helplessness.” “I will be spending Spring Festival at home here with my daughter alone,” she told RFA’s Mandarin service.

Father's letter memorized

“[I won’t go to my parents because] I don’t want to put more pressure on them. And we’re not in a very festive mood, so we won’t be going there for the celebrations.”

This is Fang Cao’s third lunar new year without Zhang. The couple’s four-year-old daughter Annie recited by heart the last letter she had from her father.

“Dear treasure, I hope you are well and that you will soon write a letter to Daddy, who misses you very much,” she recited. “Always do what your mother and older sister tell you, whether you like it or not.”

Prison authorities in the southern city of Guangzhou initially refused to allow imprisoned Straits Times correspondent Ching Cheong to receive a family visit from his wife for the new year.

A prison official told the family on Feb. 11 Ching must undergo a month of “education” and that the request for a visit had therefore been rejected.

Aged mother alone

Ching’s wife, Mary Lau Man-yee, was finally allowed to see her husband for half an hour Friday. She told Hong Kong’s Commercial Radio that her husband’s health was deteriorating in prison.

“He is very thin, and he has abdominal pain the whole time,” Lau said.

Tian Weixue, the 85-year-old mother of Zhejiang democracy activist Chi Jianwei said she’d be passing the new year alone, with a simple meal and no festivities. She called on the Chinese government to allow her son home.

“My son has a very good heart,” Tian told RFA reporter Shen Hua. “Whenever he’s at home he helps with all the chores. He has never done anything to hurt anyone. He has just been unfairly treated.”

Original reporting in Mandarin by Shen Hua. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated, written, and produced in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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