'The Family Has Never Had a Phone Call'

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china-geng-he-congress-april-2013.jpg Geng He at a congressional hearing in Washington, April 9, 2013.

Geng He, the wife of top jailed rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, escaped to the U.S. with her son and daughter in January 2009 following years of harassment and abuse by authorities because of her husband's work defending persecuted groups in China. In December 2011, four days before the end of a suspended three-year prison term, Gao Zhisheng was transferred to a prison in a remote part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and given an additional three-year jail term. Geng He, who is herself an attorney, has taken up the cause of advocacy for Chinese prisoners of conscience. She spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about her feelings ahead of her husband's 50th birthday, which falls on April 20:

Our relatives are phoning the local police department, and Shaya Prison [where Gao is serving his sentence]. They never pick up, and the family are afraid of just showing up at Shaya, in case they're not allowed to visit him when they get there, which has happened in the past.

Gao Zhisheng is approaching 50 years of age, and his family's wish is to visit him. Through the media, we hope to let more people know about this, so we can embarrass the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party, or whatever, so that they allow his family to go there, and to meet with him. Family members are supposed to be allowed a monthly visit, under the rules, but our family has only been able to meet with him twice in a period of two-and-a-half years.

We should be able to call the prison, leave a message, and they will arrange a time for them to go, but instead we have to call the police and get permission before we're allowed to go.

Most of the time, they just put us off, and rarely answer the phone.

They say, "We will have to liaise with Beijing about this, so you'll have to wait for us to get back to you." But they wait three or four months, or longer, and they don't get back to [us]. If [we] call back, no one picks up the phone.

Gao Zhisheng should have the right to communication with his family, but we have never had a letter from him or even a card.... I have written more than a dozen letters, but I haven't received one. I don't even know if he's received them.

The family has never had a phone call from [Gao], either. If we could hear his voice, then at least we'd know he's still alive. If we can't hear his voice, we know nothing. It's extremely unsettling.

I'm pretty sure Gao Zhisheng isn't OK. If he is doing fine, then why won't they let his family visit him?

At Chinese New Year this year, I called up his sister a couple of times, and the Chinese Communist Party is putting a lot of pressure on her and her two kids. They are saying she can't take calls from me, and that if she does, her kids' jobs will be at risk. [Gao's] sister changed her phone number, and didn't tell me.

A couple of days ago, I called his brother, who told me his sister had changed her number, and that I shouldn't get mad at her. He said the local police had been threatening her [grown] children.

[Gao] will soon be 50. We really miss him and hope that his family will be allowed one visit with him on his birthday. Then we would have some peace of mind.

I'd like to say to him that [his 10-year-old son] Tianyu misses him terribly. The other day, I was flipping through the diary, and Tianyu had written ... "Daddy is coming home soon. We all remember you, and miss you and love you!"

Reported by Zhang Min for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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