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Fighting for My Father's Freedom

Wang Bingzhang talks with an interviewer at a hotel in Taipei, Taiwan, on March 22, 1998.
Wang Bingzhang talks with an interviewer at a hotel in Taipei, Taiwan, on March 22, 1998. (By Eddie Shih -- Associated Press)
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By Ti-Anna Wang
Sunday, January 11, 2009

When I was born in 1989, my parents named me Ti-Anna in commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Most of my friends started their first year of college last fall, but, instead of beginning my studies, I have taken a year off from school and moved to Washington. My father is a political prisoner serving a life sentence in China for opposing communism, and I am spending this year advocating for his freedom.

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My father, Wang Bingzhang, founded the Chinese overseas democracy movement. He went to Canada in 1979 to pursue graduate studies at McGill University. Having lived through the Chinese Communist Party's Cultural Revolution and other political campaigns and purges, he was convinced that the Chinese people deserved a democracy ruled by law. Compelled by that ideal and his love of country, my father gave up a promising career in medicine to devote his life to the democratic transformation of China. He moved to New York in 1982 to gain the support of and to work with like-minded Chinese immigrants and expatriates in constructing the overseas Chinese democracy movement. For almost 20 years, my father dedicated himself to this cause. While he faced many challenges within and outside the movement, he was unwavering in his commitment to Chinese democracy.

In June 2002, my father traveled to Vietnam to meet with two fellow labor activists. They were conferring over lunch in a restaurant near the China-Vietnam border when several men speaking Chinese ordered them into a car. Beaten, blindfolded and gagged, my father and his two colleagues were abducted into China by boat. They were left in a Buddhist temple in Guangxi Province for the Chinese authorities.

My father was held incommunicado for six months, in contravention of China's own Criminal Procedural Law, after which he was charged with "offenses of espionage" and the "conduct of terrorism." His "trial" lasted one day and was held behind closed doors. During the proceedings, my father was not allowed to speak, nor was any evidence presented or witnesses called. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The identities of his abductors have never been discovered.

Since his imprisonment, my family, with the assistance of lawyers, fellow activists and friends, has brought his case to the international community. The United States, Canada, Taiwan, the European Union, the United Nations and Amnesty International have all called upon the Chinese government to release him. Despite our efforts, though, my father remains in prison. In the year leading up to the Summer Olympics in Beijing, we thought the world's scrutiny of China would motivate the Communist Party to demonstrate its professed modernization by addressing its problematic record on human rights. In our most misguided moments of naive optimism, we even entertained the notion that China would release people like my father to quell international criticism. Instead, the Games came and went, and the dominant theme of the world's media was China's success in the medal standings and as a world power. Forgotten were the many prisoners of conscience, such as my father, who continue to suffer in China's prisons and labor camps.

As the world celebrates the arrival of a new year, my father is beginning his seventh year of incarceration. He is no longer the young man who founded the overseas democracy movement; today, he is in his 60s, and since his imprisonment his health has deteriorated steadily. He suffers from chronic phlebitis, severe allergies and untreated depression. He has had three strokes in the past six years, all while being kept in solitary confinement. He is allowed one family visit per month that can last about 30 minutes. Our relatives have spent thousands and thousands of dollars to go halfway around the world to see him. While my father languished in prison, my grandfather passed away. My grandmother, who is unable to travel overseas, prays every day for his return, hoping against hope that she may live to see her son again.

This year, before I resume my schooling, I hope to raise awareness about my father's case and tell his story to remind people that despite China's economic success, it is still a country that has yet to embrace universally accepted values of human rights. Any government that jails its own people for political dissent still has a long way to go to become a respected member of the international community.

The values of freedom and democracy upon which America was founded are the same values that once inspired my father and are the ones to which he remains dedicated. Those values are not just every American's birthright; they are the fundamental rights of all human beings.

The writer lives in Washington. Her family maintains a Web site about her father and his imprisonment at http://www.wangbingzhang.com.


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