NPR logo

Family Of Chinese Activist Lawyer Escapes To U.S.

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101865588/101934045" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Family Of Chinese Activist Lawyer Escapes To U.S.

World

Family Of Chinese Activist Lawyer Escapes To U.S.

Family Of Chinese Activist Lawyer Escapes To U.S.

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101865588/101934045" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Wife Geng He, daughter Geng Ge and son Gao Tianyu. i

Geng He (left) is the wife of Gao Zhisheng, a prominent dissident lawyer in China. She and their children, daughter Geng Ge and son Gao Tianyu, fled China after Chinese state security harassment became unbearable, she says. Courtesy China Aid Association hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy China Aid Association
Wife Geng He, daughter Geng Ge and son Gao Tianyu.

Geng He (left) is the wife of Gao Zhisheng, a prominent dissident lawyer in China. She and their children, daughter Geng Ge and son Gao Tianyu, fled China after Chinese state security harassment became unbearable, she says.

Courtesy China Aid Association
Lawyer Gao Zhisheng i

Gao Zhisheng (shown in a file photo from February 2006), an outspoken lawyer who was nominated last year for the Nobel Peace Prize, has not been seen since Feb. 4. In 2007, he was detained by the authorities for 13 days and later made public detailed allegations of torture during that time. Ng Han Guan/AP File hide caption

toggle caption Ng Han Guan/AP File
Lawyer Gao Zhisheng

Gao Zhisheng (shown in a file photo from February 2006), an outspoken lawyer who was nominated last year for the Nobel Peace Prize, has not been seen since Feb. 4. In 2007, he was detained by the authorities for 13 days and later made public detailed allegations of torture during that time.

Ng Han Guan/AP File

The wife and two children of one of China's most prominent dissidents have sought asylum in the United States.

They said police pressure had made their life unbearable, leading to a dramatic escape through Southeast Asia.

In early January, Geng He wrote a note to her husband, Gao Zhisheng, a crusading lawyer who is one of China's best known dissidents. It said, "I've taken the children so they can get schooling." And then she fled, taking their 15-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son with her.

A Harrowing Trip

The authorities had forbidden the family from applying for passports. So, the family managed to sneak away from those watching them and travel to the southern province of Yunnan, where she paid human smugglers, known as snakeheads, nearly $6,000 to smuggle her family over the border. Then there was an exhausting eight-day journey that ended in Thailand.

"We traveled by night," she says. "Friends took us, and we didn't really talk. Sometimes we were traveling by motorbike, and we had to get off to walk across mountain passes. We were scared, and it was hard, but we had to keep going forward."

The family was helped by a network of people, many of whom took enormous personal risks. The U.S.-based Christian nongovernmental organization China Aid helped the family coordinate with U.S. agencies.

Founder Bob Fu says the journey was extremely dangerous.

"At one time, they had to be separated, and the 5-year-old boy was captured by the local government guards of a third country," he says. "The mother was not aware, the sister was not aware. The group assigned to that boy was able to ... persuade the guards to release the boy."

Refugee Status Granted

In Thailand, the family was granted refugee status by the U.S. in 10 days. They arrived just days ago in Los Angeles.

Geng says the family could no longer live under constant surveillance. Her husband had been convicted of inciting subversion in 2006, but was released from prison. She says their children had been deeply traumatized, especially their 15-year-old daughter, Geng Ge.

"Our daughter was not allowed to go to school," she says. "Her mood was unstable. She tried to commit suicide and talked about it. She cut her arms with a knife and slashed an artery. It bled a lot. She still has scars today."

There is a chilling recording of her daughter phoning another Chinese dissident Hu Jia in desperation.

"I really want to go to the U.S. Embassy," she says, "But I know I can't."

She complains of harassment by plainclothes policewomen and, her voice quavering, she tells of how they insult her father.

Captivity Beyond Prison

Jerome Cohen, a Chinese law expert at New York University, says Gao Zhisheng's case shows a new, disturbing trend of "prison at home."

"Now, as a matter of practice, not as a matter of law, the Chinese government seems to be bringing back collective punishment, often punishing not just the alleged offender, but also their entire family — children as well as spouses," he says.

Now there are fears for Gao's safety. Sources say he was interrogated three times, one of them for two nights and a day, after his family fled. He hasn't been seen since Feb. 4, when he was bundled away by police.

In 2007, he was detained by the authorities for 13 days. He later made public detailed allegations of torture during that time.

"Every time I was tortured, I was repeatedly threatened that, if I spelled out later what had happened to me, I would be tortured again. But I was told, 'This time it will happen in front of your wife and children,' " Gao said at the time. "The tall, strong man repeated over and over during the days I was tortured, 'Your death is sure if you share this with the outside world.' "

NYU's Cohen says pressure should now be placed on the Chinese authorities to produce Gao immediately.

"In light of the terrible, obscene tortures to which he was previously subjected, I think there's a reasonable question as to whether he's alive, and I think the Chinese authorities ought to be called upon to produce him," he says.

"Thirty-seven days of silence — it's a total violation of their legal system, and I think their leaders ought to be called to account for it."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.