Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Remember those who are in prison

SAN FRANCISCO–For Gao Zhisheng’s family, visiting the imprisoned Christian at his remote exile in western China takes days.
Gao’s father-in-law and older brother made the trek in January: The pair rode a train nearly 2,000 miles from Shaanxi Province into the craggy mountains of the desert region of Xinjiang after obtaining clearance from prison officials to visit Gao. Then they took a public bus to its last stop, where they hired a motorcycle driver to travel the lone road to Shaya Prison, where the dissident has been jailed. When the father and son reached the first security checkpoint, a guard delivered cruel news: Despite official assurance to the family, no one could see Gao.
The dejected men tried the trek again in March. This time officials allowed a visit, but gave strict orders: Don’t talk about Gao’s case. Don’t mention his lawyers. Discuss only family and health. Finally, after the days-long trip, and the hour-long orientation, prison guards allowed the men to visit Gao for 30 minutes.
Nearly 6,000 miles away, Gao’s wife, Geng He, can recount that story openly near her home in northern California. Geng fled to the United States with her two children in 2009 after Chinese authorities harassed her family for years.
Here she’s free to bring attention to her husband’s plight, but she’s deeply lonely without him. And she struggles to explain the ordeal to their 8-year-old son: “It’s very hard for him to understand why daddy disappeared.”
Gao’s disappearance into the Chinese prison system is a mysterious saga. But at least one thing seems clear: Chinese officials remain determined to silence the Christian attorney who challenged an oppressive system.
Like other dissidents in Communist China, Gao, 48, has contended publicly for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and justice for the oppressed. And like others, he’s paid a steep price: prison sentences, abuse, and separation from family.


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