Wives of Chinese dissidents seek US help at hearing

Remigio Civitarese
Mag 20, 2017

Among the women testifying in person was Chen Guiqiu, who fled to the USA with her two daughters in March after publicizing an account of how her lawyer husband Xie Yang was tortured in custody with repeated beatings, starvation and dehydration.

Addressing a congressional hearing in Washington on Thursday, the women, whose husbands were among the key targets of a Communist party offensive against human rights lawyers, detailed the physical and psychological trauma inflicted by China's so-called "war on law". "Today other [lawyers and political prisoners] are still suffering from such torture", Wang said, calling on USA president Donald Trump to challenge China over such abuses.

The chairman of the human rights subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Chris Smith, said the panel would make an immediate request for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to meet with the women.

In a video message, Li Wenzu, the wife of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, said she had heard nothing from him since he was seized by police at the start of the campaign against lawyers in July 2015. All those who had been able to contact their husbands alleged they had suffered harsh treatment in Chinese detention, including torture.

In testimony to the hearing, Jin Bianling said her husband, Jiang Tianyong, a disbarred lawyer who spoke out against a government crackdown on dozens of rights activists in 2015, had been prevented from seeing a lawyer for almost six months.

Critics have accused Trump of softening the USA approach to China, including on rights, after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in April, in an effort to secure more Chinese support to reigning in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Wang Qiaoling, whose husband, Li Heping, recently emerged from a 22-month stint in custody, said he returned home looking "20 years older" and had told of being forced to sit for hours in stress positions and being shackled with chains.

Li Heping returned to his home this month after being held for almost two years, his former lawyer said. But Chen said Xie hasn't regained freedom. He is on bail and "national security agents follow him wherever he goes", she said.

Smith condemned what he called Chinese President Xi Jinping's effort to "eviscerate" a network of human rights lawyers as he tightens his grip on power. He said a new US human rights law should be used to impose sanctions on Chinese officials complicit in torturing detainees. The case has inflamed already high tensions between China and Taiwan.

Wang Yanfeng, the wife of democracy campaigner Tang Jingling, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for subversion, also testified. Wang had defended members of the Falun Gong meditation sect that is banned in China, and was charged with subversion a year ago.

Lee Chin-yu pleaded for the United States government to pressure China to free her husband, Lee Ming-che, who was detained on March 19 during a visit to the mainland. He has previously conducted online lectures on Taiwan's democratisation and managed a fund for families of political prisoners in China. "I stand alone before you today to plead for your help for my husband", Lee said, calling on Washington to pressure China to end her husband's "illegitimate detention".

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