Originally published in The Gospel Herald
The wife of a Christian man sentenced to 19 years in prison for publishing dissenting articles and social media posts has penned a heartbreaking letter expressing her concern regarding the Communist government’s brutal treatment of her husband.
According to persecution watchdog China Aid, human rights advocate Zhang Haitao was apprehended on June 26 2015, after he sent 69 WeChat and 205 Twitter messages advocating for human rights in China, subscribed to and wrote for Boxun and Voice of America, accepted media interviews from overseas organisations and discussed the condition of Urumqi during a politically sensitive time period.
Extraordinarily harsh sentencing
In July, authorities charged him with “inciting racial hatred and discrimination,” confiscated his property and froze his bank cards. After formally arresting him for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, authorities later changed the charge again to “inciting subversion of state power” and accused him of “providing information to foreign powers.” He was sentenced to a total of 19 years in prison, deprived of political rights for five years and fined 120 000 Yuan (US $18 000). Last year, campaign group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in a statement that Zhang’s sentencing was “extraordinarily harsh.”
Over a year later, Zhang’s wife, Li Aijie, travelled to his detention centre in China’s western Xinjiang to visit her husband and ask about his treatment after learning his shackles hadn’t been removed in more than a year.
“Haitao, you were treated in this way by corrupt officials only because you said things that they do not like to hear and exposed the truth behind their unfit-to-be-seen acts,” she wrote in an open letter translated by Chin Aid. “Haitao, I care about you and am so heartbroken for you! However, this justice-less nation doesn’t safeguard human rights in the slightest degree. What can I do to protect you, my love?”
After arriving at the detention centre, Li confronted Chief Ma, Ma, the director of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Detention Centre, about her husband’s acute weight loss, asked them to confirm or deny reports that he was prohibited from spending time outside and inquired about whether or not he was allowed to read the Bible she sent him.
Assurance of fair treatment
Ma reassured her that he had enough to eat, joined the other prisoners for their regular outdoor activities and was permitted to read his Bible. However, he would not allow Zhang to meet his infant son, who was born shortly after his arrest.
“Despite Chief Ma’s tone of certainty, I still could not resign myself to leave,” Li wrote. “Under the burning sun, I held [our child] Mandela, and the three of us, including Zhang’s older sister, lingered by the detention centre and paced back and forth. We hoped that we could see someone’s shadow, but the only things we could see were the wires and the walls.”
She continued: “Seeing the carefree Mandela, who did not know the affairs of the world, made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I was depressed and grieved. The child, who was supposed to grow up under his father’s protection, had never met his father after being born. He had finally come this close to his father, but the wires and walls prevented them from uniting.”
Shortly after her husband’s arrest, Li told China Change that she will continue to advocate for Zhang’s release – regardless of what the government threatens to do: “There is nothing to be afraid of anymore,” she said, “Look at the situation we’re already in. How worse can it get?”