WASHINGTON—The brutal persecution of prisoners of conscience in China naturally invokes sympathy for the victims. Too often it’s not appreciated that for every prisoner of conscience in communist China, there are many friends and family members who are also being persecuted.
On Dec. 5, 5 Chinese daughters testified before a hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. They described their agony of being separated from their fathers, who are currently incarcerated and often tortured by the Chinese Communist Party for their beliefs and activism.
Committee Chairman Chris Smith from New Jersey opened the hearing with a statement: “When China bullies, incarcerates, tortures—and even executes—a prisoner of conscience, their entire family and friends suffer an excruciating sense of loss, bewilderment, emotional pain, and agony.”
Smith observed that frequently, members of the family are subjected to “interrogation, mistreatment, and house arrest” as a way to further the persecution of the prisoner.
A child or a wife or husband lives a nightmare, wondering: “What terrible abuse awaits their dad or mom or brother or sister or child,” said Smith.
‘Help free our fathers’
Lisa Peng is a high school student in Ohio. She’s the daughter of Peng Ming, founder of the China Development Federation and author of The Fourth Landmark. Peng became a United Nations refugee in the United States in 2001, but soon after, he was abducted in Thailand by Chinese secret agents, taken to China, and sentenced for life on false charges of organizing and leading a terrorist organization.
Lisa said: “Despite nearly 10 years in prison suffering heart attacks, arthritis, malnutrition, and kidney stones with no medical care, my father still persists and remains hopeful.” She would like for her father to be given proper medical attention and visitation rights, and to ultimately be released.
Gege “Grace” Gao
Gege “Grace” Gao, daughter of renowned human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng, said that she last saw her father over five years ago. She described the horrendous insults the Communist Party imposed onto her, her brother, and their mother. She testified that her younger brother recently said he could no longer remember their father’s face and figure.
Grace said that soon after the family arrived in the states, her worries about her father resulted in a nervous breakdown, and she had to be hospitalized.
“All my relatives, such as my grandma, grandpa, three aunts, and his brothers and sisters, were blacklisted. They were deprived the basic rights of even getting a citizen passport. Eight years passed, the persecution on my father is not only still continuing, but also extends to all of our family members,” Grace said.
The U.S. Congress and State Department have made numerous requests to the Chinese regime for the release of Gao Zhisheng, but the regime has ignored them.
“I wish that President Obama and Vice President Biden could mention about my father’s name Gao Zhisheng in public occasions and urge the immediate release of my father without conditions,” she said.
Ti-Anna Wang, daughter of Wang Bingzhang, who founded the overseas Chinese democracy movement, was captured in Vietnam in 2002. Wang is another U.S. permanent resident abducted and taken to China for a sham trial on “espionage” and “terrorism” charges. He’s currently serving a life sentence in prison.
Ti-Anna testified: “While [my father] languishes in prison, I have spent the past decade campaigning for his release by telling his story on public platforms, and lobbying the American and Canadian governments for assistance. As a result, the Chinese government apparently decided that I too needed to be punished. Since I began speaking in public, the Chinese [regime] has refused to issue me a visa. It’s now been five years since I’ve been able to visit my father.”
Bridgette Chen’s father is Liu Xianbin, a prominent political dissident and organizer of the China Democracy Party. Liu was first jailed as a university student for his participation in 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement. He was sentenced for 10 years in 2011, and has served in prison for a total of over 15 years since 1991.
Bridgette quoted from a letter she received from her father: “The absence of me has made this family incomplete, and it must has been difficult for both you and your mom when I’m not by your side. So I can only express my love through these letters so that you would still feel my love for you even when I’m not here with you.”
Bridgette asked the U.S. government, Vice President Biden, and President Obama to intervene and “help free our fathers.”
Danielle Wang is the oldest of the five daughters. Her father, Wang Zhiwen, was a railway engineer and a volunteer contact person of Falun Dafa (also called Falun Gong) in Beijing before he was seized at home on the night of July 20, 1999. This day marked when Chinese Communist Party launched the brutal persecution against the peaceful spiritual practice. In a staged, nationally televised ‘trial,’ Wang was sentenced to 16 years.
“At my wedding, we placed a single rose on his chair to symbolize his presence and celebrate his place in my life. I continue to keep that rose safe and present until the day we meet again and I can hand it to him and tell him the story of how he has always been with me,” Danielle said.
Danielle Wang cried throughout her testimony. She has had zero information of her father’s whereabouts for 15 years, other than hearing that he was brutally tortured, with both of his collarbones smashed, his teeth pulled out, and police pierced his fingers under the fingernails with sharp bamboo sticks.
All five witnesses expressed the wish for a meeting in the Oval Office with the president to discuss their fathers and the need to reunite their families.
Congress members empathize
Many congressmen attending this hearing were deeply moved. They too are fathers. Chairman Smith had to pause for seconds before he could continue. He pledged that the human rights committee will doggedly work to reach the hearts and minds of government officials, “so this is not talking point on page 5, if it is that at all.”
Smith urged the press to amplify in a serious and sustained way the plight of these fathers.
Pointing at the daughters, he said: “You’re not the exceptions; you’re the pattern, you’re the norm in China today.”
Smith said that these extraordinary agonies need to be heard by more people and delivered to the members of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the heads of the U.N. delegations. He commended the five young women: “Americans should see this is the pride of China sitting here.”
Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) commended the women for living a very profound and just life, for their fathers and for those like them. He emphasized to the daughters that they have been chosen for an important time, and their testimonies will show to Americans that “human rights, religious freedom, liberty, freedom of conscience are superior. They are preeminent, and they are far greater than any economic destinies. They supersede all.”
Teary-eyed, Congressman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) addressed the daughters and reassured them that “even though miles and time may separate you, there is nothing, nothing that will ever separate you from your father’s love.” He said he was profoundly touched by their testimony. “As a father, speaking on behalf of your fathers, I’m proud of you,” he said.
Meadows made a personal commitment to the daughters that “as discussions go on with those in official positions in China that not a single one of those conversations or negotiations will happen without the faces of each of you being at the forefront of our mind.”
Smith said that Meadows is the congressional delegate to the United Nations and will relate their testimony to officials there.
Rep. Meadows told them that he and his colleagues would be unflinching in their dedication to helping them, and ended with: “You will see your dad soon.”
After the hearing, Chairman Smith spoke to New Tang Dynasty Television on his hopes that the remarkable testimony of the five daughters would move Beijing.
“I hope there will be in Beijing today, and into the weekend, a real appraisal of the huge damage, the hurt, the agony they are imposing on the prisoners of conscience themselves, and on their families, and on these remarkable daughters… That’s our hope, that they will hear the pleas of their own daughters who are suffering so much, and who miss their dads so much.”
However, at the hearing, Chairman Smith expressed perhaps a more realistic view of the communist regime. He said it is in the business of “breaking minds, bodies, and hearts. The repression is systematic, pervasive, unrelenting, and unnecessary.”
Speaking of China’s many prisoners of conscience and their families, Smith said: “The time has come for a more serious and sustained defense of these heroic individuals and their noble causes.”
With reporting by Linda Du
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