China Vs. My Husband
DONGSHIGU, China -- On Aug. 20, the Yinan County People's Court in Shandong province sentenced my husband, Chen Guangcheng, to four years and three months in prison on charges of "intentionally destroying property" and "assembling a crowd to disturb traffic."
Local officials punished my husband because he provided advice about the law and human rights to village women who were forced to undergo abortions. Officials in charge of birth control were afraid that they would be disciplined as a result of his peaceful activities.
I have not seen my husband since March, when he was formally detained after we both had been under house arrest and residential surveillance for six months. I have been banned by local government officials from visiting him, first at the detention center and now in prison. I never received notification about the date and location of my husband's court hearing. When I finally learned from a fellow villager about the hearing schedule, naturally I wanted to attend. But I was physically constrained by local officials, so I could not go.
Instead of attending his trial I was detained at the local police station. Officers threatened me, saying that unless I stopped speaking up about the case, I could also face charges and prosecution for intentionally destroying property and assembling a crowd to disturb traffic.
I did not receive any legal documents from the Yinan Court until almost a month after the court announced its verdict in my husband's case. When I had a chance to read the verdict, which was sent to me through e-mail by someone who took the trouble to record every word, I was overcome with indignation and grief. But I must hold myself together, for I have to take care of our two small children and my mother-in-law, who is ill from the fear caused by threats from officials. I left the house and buried myself in farm work. Security guards hired by local officials to follow me came along and kept an eye on me in the fields from just a few yards away.
Three fellow villagers who had been detained and who faced the same charges as my husband were released on Aug. 20. They were each sentenced to seven months, with the start of their terms deferred for one year. I asked them about what they had been through. They felt embarrassed, but they told me that they simply could not endure the torture during interrogation. And so they repeated back to authorities what they were ordered to say, and it was later used as evidence against my husband.
The police threatened them with death if they did not testify against him. They said that police officers had bound their hands behind their backs for at least three days. They were deprived of sleep for 15 days. The police pulled their hair and beat and kicked them whenever they fell asleep. One of them told me: "I was terrified of death. My kid is very young." I begged them to testify to Chen's innocence at the appeal. They refused. They said, "We were set free because we said and did something against our will and conscience. That was the price we paid for our release. We dare not do anything that has to do with Chen Guangcheng from now on. Our families have to survive."
I sympathize with these villagers and understand their fear. I can only lament the miserable situation of my fellow peasants in China.
Before I married Chen Guangcheng I was an English teacher. My parents disapproved of our marriage because Chen is blind. Now they want me to move back to live with them, but I have declined. Since I am still under residential surveillance, however, I have no choice but to let them take care of one of my children, who can then attend school there. I have no regrets at having chosen Chen Guangcheng to be my husband.
In September 2005, the local government set up a guard post in our front yard to monitor our daily activities. Since the police took Chen to the detention center in March, the guards have been watching and following me around all day long.
I want to send a message to my husband: One day the truth will come to light. Even though they put you in jail, they cannot imprison your thoughts and spirit. You must take good care of yourself so that you can continue your unfinished work.
Links to Post coverage of the detention, trial and sentencing of Chen Guangcheng accompany the online version of this column onhttp:/