'We Never Know What is Going to Happen to Them'

china-rights-lawyer-wives-may-2017-crop.jpg From left to right: Lee Ching-yu, Jin Bianling, RFA reporter Liu Ping, Wang Yanfang, and Chen Guiqiu at RFA in Washington, May 16, 2017.

The wives of three mainland Chinese human rights lawyers, and the wife of a disappeared Taiwan democracy activist speak to RFA's Mandarin Service about their experiences as advocates for detained and 'disappeared' loved ones at a time of huge psychological stress, ahead of testifying at a May 18 hearing on Chinese human rights abuses convened by the House of Representatives panel on Global Human Rights in Washington.

Xie Yang's wife, Chen Guiqiu:

I have no way of getting in touch with [Xie Yang] right now. A lot of police officers have been visiting our family and trying to get them to persuade me to come back to China. They have also sent copies of articles I have written to my brother and his wife, so I have broken off contact with them now [in order to protect them]. But on that day in court, when he appeared, and pleaded guilty, and denied that he had been tortured, and that his rights had been protected by the authorities, that court was an illegitimate court. There wasn't a single legitimate person in it. We never hired his defense attorney. The two lawyers I hired never made it into the courtroom to defend him. A lot of our friends went to the court and tried to get into the public gallery but they were detained by police. There was a security cordon around the court and the roads outside had been closed. There were spectators in the court, but they had been placed there by [the authorities]. It certainly wasn't the case that we could exercise our right to sit in the public gallery. Neither did we receive any formal notification of the trial date from them. Also, neither Chen Jiangang nor Liu Zhengqing, the defense lawyers I hired, has been able to meet with him since the end of the January, so I don't know what they have been up to behind the scenes. Some of the other lawyers ... were force-fed with medication. I don't know if Xie Yang was force-fed medication as well. As for the torture that Xie Yang went through and then denied, one of my lawyers ... saw the prison guards beating Xie Yang with their own eyes. Other people told me after they got out that he was isolated in detention, that he wasn't allowed to buy anything with his money, and that other people were instructed not to talk to him. And he was kept inside without being allowed a meeting with his lawyers for 16 and a half months. I found his responses [very shocking] that he would say that his rights were protected, and that he hadn't been tortured.

Since I arrived in the United States, members of my family [still in China] have been detained and even forcibly taken to Thailand to look for us. All of my bank accounts have been frozen ... The police have been telling my family back home that I am a traitor who is harming Xie Yang. Their purpose is to drive a wedge between us. My lawyers have been targeted. Recently my lawyer Chen Jiangang found out that his kid hadn't gotten into primary school. I have crossed so many red lines already. I wasn't supposed to contact any other families of detained lawyers, I wasn't to write articles, to give media interviews. There were so many rules.

To the U.S., I'd say, don't see human rights as a business deal. Instead, you should look at the real persecution people are suffering, the lawyers. I would like to see the Trump administration extend the same sort of help and assistance to Chinese people without a family member who is a U.S. citizen.

Tang Jingling's wife, Wang Yanfang:

Tang Jingling was detained on May 16, 2014 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power." He wasn't allowed to see a lawyer initially because he was being held on charges of subversion, but he was allowed to after the case was transferred to the prosecutor. Tang Jingling has actually suffered through similar torture in the past, during the [2011] Jasmine Revolution crackdown. Like so many people who have concerned themselves with social issues, he had long been subjected to official harassment, searches of his home, residential surveillance, and later torture, before he was finally formally arrested and sentenced to prison. His mental state is pretty good ... but he has be subjected to some ill-treatment, which of course is a worry for his family. When our loved ones are in prison, we never know what is going to happen to them, whether they'll be subjected to worse treatment.

I was under so much emotional pressure after Tang Jingling was detained ... I went to Hong Kong try to call for public support for him. I really hoped I'd be able to put pressure on them to release him. I was also worried that I would be detained myself, and then I wouldn't be able to speak out on behalf of my husband. Back when he had been detained previously, when he was tortured, I had pretty much lost control, according to my family. So this time I wanted to do something, to speak out. When I had done that, I was warned off by the police, who said I'd go to jail if I carried on like that. The lawyers were [under pressure] too. They had all been under some kind of pressure since [2011], being called in for questioning, or losing their license to practice law. I had already lost my job back in 2008. We all went through the same thing. There's always some hope that one's husband will be released, no matter how long he's been locked up for.

Jiang Tianyong's wife Jin Bianling:

Jiang went missing on Nov. 21, 2016, and was placed under residential surveillance at a secret location ... His family still doesn't know exactly where he is being held. His lawyer has applied to meet with him four times, but has never been granted permission. So we have no idea whatsoever how his health is, what sort of conditions he is living in, or what kind of torture he has endured. However, we received information from a sympathetic source within the system that Jiang Tianyong's feet have swollen up. He can't walk. He can't even stand. Some of the ... lawyers who were released lately said that they were force-fed medication, or deprived of sleep, or forced to stand for long periods of time. I am pretty sure that if Jiang Tianyong's legs are so swollen that he can't stand up, it's because he has been subjected to torture. For this reason, I am extremely worried about his health. [Jiang's father] was heading to Beijing, to his other son's house ... and was secretly detained there ... They were detained by interceptors [from Henan]. Jiang Tianyong's father is in his seventies, but they got him in an armlock, with his arms behind his back, and pushed him into a hotel where they detained him. They subjected him to a long interrogation, and then they told him to sign a guarantee promising not to have any contact with the outside world, and not to give out any information regarding Jiang Tianyong to [me]. Now, Jiang Tianyong's father is ill in bed with back pain. [The police] have already installed surveillance cameras in his home to watch them. They rented out an apartment specially for this purpose. Their ancestral home is in the mountains, and the [police security detail] have cars and motorcycles there and it's hard to get through by car, so they use these motorcycles to follow Jiang Tianyong's parents wherever they go.

I came to the U.S. in 2013, nearly four years ago. I haven't seen Jiang Tianyong in all that time. We have just been in contact via the internet. I may have escaped all of the detentions, the surveillance, the kids not being able to get schooling, but I have found life very hard since I got here. There has been no news of him at all since his disappearance, and yet he had already received political refugee status to come to the U.S. for resettlement. But the Chinese state security police wouldn't allow him to leave the country. Life was already pretty tough for Jiang Tianyong even before he was detained. So I really hope that the U.S. will be able to get him released through diplomatic channels, so our family can be reunited. And that all of the other rights lawyers will be be released, too. Wang Quangzhang's wife and family have had no news of him; they are homeless, and constantly forced to move, and the children can't go to school.

Lee Ming-cheh's wife Lee Ching-yu:

It's now 59 days [since I had any news of my husband]. Lee Ming-cheh and I both took part in social activism in Taiwan, right from the start. I am very moved by the stories I have just heard. I have researched the white terror in Taiwan ... and it is regarded as history ... But these [ladies] are still living it. I have to admit that I feel fortunate to be from Taiwan, to not have been through similar persecution. However, my husband has disappeared, since he entered China from Macau on March 19. I haven't had any news of him. I don't know where he is. They finally admitted that they had detained him 10 days after March 19 in a news briefing, and that he is currently being investigated for activities that harmed national security. But we still have no idea what the actual reason for detaining him was. I [tried to visit him in mainland China] because I know from my research into the white terror in Taiwan that when a person is isolated in that way, then all kinds of unimaginable horrors can be perpetrated on them. So that's why I held a news conference in Taiwan to say that I wasn't going to make any legal defense; that I was going to limit myself to humanitarian and human rights arguments. For that reason, I would be refusing to make any acknowledgement of anything Lee Ming-cheh might admit to under a situation he is currently in, without having been allowed to meet with him first. This is because I knew that any such confession would have been made under duress, and in an inhumane situation where he didn't have his liberty. Taiwan went through something very similar in its history 30 years ago.

Since Tsai Ing-wen was elected, cross-straits relations have been affected. Our government has continually put out the line that they are working to save Lee Ming-cheh ... but I think they aren't really. They keep saying they want to rescue him, but we haven't actually seen them take any concrete actions towards doing so. I have heard through various official sources that their approach is to 'keep a low profile.' That means that they are hoping I will keep a low profile. In the 59 days since Lee Ming-cheh's disappearance, we have yet to see them take a single concrete action.

Reported by Liu Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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