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Yaxue Cao, November 1, 2017
Li Aijie (李爱杰) is from Henan province, China’s central plains. She married a man named Zhang Haitao (张海涛) in Urumqi, Xinjiang, who moved from Henan to the far northwestern region in the 1990s seeking job opportunities after being laid off from a state-owned enterprise. He made a living trading in electronics. The couple were very much in love.
Embittered by personal injustices in the hands of authorities, he was attracted from 2009 onward to the thriving rights defense activism around the country. He partook in online forums that discussed democratic ideas; he volunteered for the human rights website Human Rights Campaign (“权利运动”); he signed a petition urging the Chinese government to abolish the extra-legal Reeducation Through Labor detention system; he gave interviews to Voice of America and Radio Free Asia on what he had observed on the streets of Urumqi. And so on.
He was arrested in 2014, and on January 15, 2016, he was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and “prying into and illegally supplying intelligence abroad” (为境外刺探、非法提供情报罪) and sentenced to 19 years in prison by the Urumqi Intermediate Court. The judgment cited 69 WeChat posts and 205 Twitter posts, including retweets of others’ tweet, as evidence of inciting subversion, and named Voice of America and Radio Free Asia as “hostile foreign websites.”
Li Aijie was pregnant when her husband was arrested. She gave birth to a little boy whom the father named “Little Mandela” (小曼德拉). She has since moved back to Henan to seek refuge in her hometown among relatives.
On April 19, 2017, with the help of activists, Li Aijie embarked on a journey of over 2,000 miles to visit her husband, who had been serving his sentence in Shaya Prison in the heart of Xinjiang on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert. She visited him again in late July after many calls asking permission from the prison, even though by Chinese law, prisoners are allowed only one family visit each month.
Her requests for visits since September have not come to fruition.
Zhang Haitao was jailed in solitary confinement to receive “education.” He described to his wife that the cell has a window that can let in air and a bit of sunlight. He stays in there all day and all night, and is not allowed yard time.
The first time she visited, the prison didn’t allow her to show and give him photos of his son. The second time they let her.
For the thousands of miles she traveled, they were allowed 30 minutes only at each of the two meetings.
Over the summer, she traveled to Beijing. She wanted to ask the Central Leadership to transfer Zhang Haitao to a prison in Urumqi for humanitarian reasons: to make her journeys to the prison one third shorter and easier to travel. At the Ministry of Justice, she said she never got past the gate. A person came out telling her to go to the Bureau of Calls and Letters (国家信访局). She went there and didn’t succeed in getting past the gate either.
On October 8 when Li Aijie visited her parents’ home, she was assaulted by her eldest brother and an older sister. They punched her on the face and the head. “Do you know how many times the police have talked to me?” the brother shouted at her according to her account. “What good is it to wait for Zhang Haitao? What does the future hold for you? Cut your relations with him! Stop going to Xinjiang!” “Look at the man you married!” The sister let out her anger. “You ruined yourself, now the whole family suffers from it, and you refuse to listen!”
They pushed her on the floor and kicked her. The elder brother was about to throw a chair at her when another brother stopped him.
Local authorities threatened the jobs of Li’s siblings if they don’t “rein her in.”
She wrote: “Am I wrong to love someone and wait for him? Visiting Haitao is my legal right. My son and I are the hope that Haitao lives for togets out of prison alive. I can’t leave him at a moment like this. I really can’t.” She said she’s never going to leave her husband, and asked those who interfered with her relationship to cease.
China Change has made considerable effort to bring Zhang Haitao’s case to the attention of our readers and the State Department. Among other things, we translated the entirety of the court decision to facilitate the evaluation of Zhang’s case. We argued that the U. S. government is obliged to defend its institutions when VOA and RFA—both funded by Congress— interviews are used as criminal evidence to imprison Chinese citizens.
A Call for Help
I spoke to a human rights lawyer in Henan, and Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁)—the founder and board director of Humanitarian China—spoke to Li Aijie herself for permission, which she gave, to raise money for her and her child to help cover her travels to Xinjiang.
If you want to help, you may make a donation to Humanitarian China stating the purpose of your contribution. Humanitarian China is a 501(c)(3) based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Humanitarian China has been providing financial support to political prisoners, their family members, and civil society activists in China since 2007. In the last few years it raised money for Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, independent journalist Gao Yu, the wife and children of Zhao Changqing, and the 709 human rights lawyers.
If you are a human rights organization with relief fund, please extend a helping hand to Li Aijie and her baby son.
Disclaimer: Yaxue Cao, editor of this website, is a board member of Humanitarian China.
Activist in Xinjiang Sentenced to 19 Years for Online Writings and Rights Activities, Yaqiu Wang, January 21, 2016
Appeal Begins of Harsh 19-Year Prison Term Given Xinjiang-based Activist Zhang Haitao, Yaxue Cao, February 21, 2016
U.S. Government Must Intervene in Zhang Haitao’s Case, China Change, November 21, 2016
A Long Journey to Visit My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, Li Aijie, April 23, 2017
A Long Journey to Visit My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, Part Two, Li Aijie, April 29, 2017
Zhang Haitao Court Decision, a Full Translation by China Change
Zhang Haitao’s Appeal, a Translation by China Change
Safeguard defenders, September 19, 2017
Among the many revelations into the systematic repression of the human rights community to have come to light since the beginning of the 709 Crackdown have been accounts from those released about the access of police and state security to chat logs and emails, even communications and documents those people thought they had deleted.
This heightened awareness has certainly pushed the idea of taking digital security precautions in how to prevent sensitive information from falling into the hands of police in the event of detention. However, the focus of trainings and guidebooks is often directed in the wrong direction, namely on more advanced hacking and sophisticated intrusion. This continued focus on advanced threats actually has and will continue to harm human rights defenders’ safety. This is because it is not only nearly impossible to defend against such high level threats but that also in almost every case this is not the real threat. In the end, time is consumed trying to defend against a largely non-existent threat.
It is true that the capability of the Chinese Government concerning data forensics and hacking has developed like other aspects of the country, but those often limited resources are used against other bigger, and usually international, targets. On top of that, police and state security know well that the impunity with which they can act means that they have more direct, easier, access to whatever a human rights defenders’ computer or phone might hold; namely the use of direct threats, torture and intimidation against family, friends and loved ones. There are exceptions, but against these tools of repression, few people can stand up for long.
Real security must thus be based on the fact that a defenders’ computer and phone will be taken, and chances are that they will be forced to give up the information the police is after. The threat of torture or disappearance is sadly quite effective against even the best password or encrypted file. Any training and training material must be based on this reality. Digital security requires physical and behavioral changes in addition to passwords and applications.
The reality is also that digital security solutions that decrease the efficiency of our phones and computers are likely to be abandoned after time, regardless of the quality or number of trainings the rights defender or journalist has attended. Security solutions are only solutions if they are actually applied and maintained, something a lot of training material seems to gloss over when they offer solutions that are realistically not feasible for the majority of rights defenders.
Real security, that is sufficient and sustainable, can only come from finding the middle path, by focusing on real threats, while offering solutions that come from basic behavior rather than advanced technological solutions.
The newly released Practical Digital Protection self-study guide has been developed with these considerations in mind. It was developed over 12 months, together with journalists, lawyers, NGO workers and rights defenders across China, looking at their own experiences with security issues, detentions, interrogations and data forensic techniques applied by police and state security. The manual doesn’t only provide behavior-based solutions, but also real-life stories from defenders illustrating how their own best or worst case solutions have had a direct impact on how their technology has either been used against them, their partners, and coworkers, or prevented from being exploited by the State.
The following abridged story is one of several from the Practical Digital Protection manual.
A seasoned rights defense lawyer received a message on Telegram from a trusted colleague that the police had been asking questions about her and that she should expect to be detained or at least questioned. She had at this point already taken on many rights defense cases and worked with many other similar lawyers for several years. She was quite skilled in cybersecurity, having always been afraid police might detain her or take her computer and try to use her information against her. She rarely used WeChat, and never for work. She even knew how to use hidden encryption, not only to protect the data itself, but also to hide its very existence. Police can’t ask about what they don’t know exist she figured, correctly.
The information she had wasn’t just about her, but also about others. If this information fell into the wrong hands it didn’t just mean possible imprisonment for her, but for others. She had already been smart enough to realize that normal encryption would be of little help. If police knew what to ask for, she doubted that she would be able to resist for long, as she as a lawyer was well aware that the legal protections against torture and mistreatment in China are barely worth the paper they are written on.
When the police eventually detained her and placed her alone in a cell, to undergo more than a month of interrogations, they also seized her computer, several phones, and USBs.
After a few days in detention, she was very surprised when the police began to start each new day by showing her documents from her computer. She knew these documents had been stored in a hidden encrypted space that the police did not have access too, or even knew about. She was frantic each time the police produced one of these documents. These documents threatened to expose some of her sensitive rights defense work and provide evidence that would make it easy for the police to go after her clients or other lawyers she had worked with.
Before being detained she had agreed to a cover story with her colleagues who might also be detained. Some of the documents the police produced challenged their cover story, and severely increased hers and their risks.
The documents the police had were very random. Many of them were also just partial, a few pages of a larger document. How did they get these documents, she continued to wonder.
In the end, the police did not find the ‘smoking gun’ they were looking for, and even though she remains to this day under threat, having been released on ‘bail’, with police able to pick her up again any day they wish, the fact that most documents remained protected saved her.
Only after her release, with time and access to information online did she figure out what had gone wrong. File Recovery program it read. With this, she would learn of something that even many of those skilled in Cybersecurity fails to understand, or if they do understand it, fails to realize how big of a threat it is.
Data, she realized, are like memories. They linger for a long time, and even when they begin to fade, it happens slowly, and only parts of it disappear. Data, once ‘deleted,’ she realized, is not actually deleted, but continues to lie on the hard drive, only not visible to the normal user. It’s all still there, until the space holding the data is filled up with something new. The fact that most of data was in an encrypted space didn’t always matter, as many of the documents she had produced over the years had been created on the desktop (outside the encrypted area), before being moved to the encrypted space (which leaves traces of the original). An act of laziness. Many documents had also been deleted over time, she like most thus assumed they were safe. It had been deleted after all.
So what had happened? All those documents that had been on her normal hard drive, once moved to the encrypted storage, were readily available to the police using File Recovery, easy to use programs available for free online. All they had to do was scan her hard drive in detail, and step by step pieces of old data long ago deleted could be put together. This is because the documents weren’t properly erased from her computer. But there are solutions. Programs such as CCleaner for example, securely delete files to make sure nobody can ever recover them. Understanding how data deletion really works, and making secure deletion part of a normal routine will drastically increase security.
Safeguard Defenders new practical digital protection manual (English and Chinese editions) can be found at practicaldigitalprotection.com.
In addition to the current Chinese- and English language editions, other editions are being produced in collaboration with Reporters Without Borders, with a Vietnamese and a Turkish edition coming this fall.
Safeguard Defenders 的最新数字安全实用手册目前有英文版和中文版，可以在网站 practicaldigitalprotection.com 下载。
Also from Safeguard Defenders:
What to Make of the Explosive New WeChat and QQ Spying Revelations? September 10, 2017
Safeguard Defenders, September 10, 2017
A new report by a Lookout, a Cybersecurity company, has generated renewed interest in the security, or lack thereof, of WeChat and QQ (https://blog.lookout.com/xrat-mobile-threat). Despite this, there has been limited attention paid to this explosive new revelation.
It has long been known that due to WeChat keeping its servers inside China, the lack of legal protection of privacy data, and the control over companies by police, that WeChat data is not safe, and can, without protection, be accessed by police or other state actors more or less at will. This has naturally made people shy away from using WeChat for any more serious or political discussions. More and more court cases of people being prosecuted simply based on private chat messages to friends have further illustration this. At the same time, at the time of the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, it was shown that a ‘Trojan’ virus was being employed to surveil users remotely.
xRAT. That’s the name of the new discovery. Like the earlier virus found, it’s a ‘Trojan’ virus, meaning it masks itself as something else, for example a PDF file, and you will be unaware of if you have it on your phone by now. It specifically targets you through your WeChat or QQ account.
So what’s the big deal?
The ‘Trojan’ operates with administrator privileges. It means it can access and control any and all aspects of your phone. It also means it can do so without you noticing. In fact, it can remotely get ‘full control’. If you want to understand what this means it is this: it has as much access to your phone as if you were to give it to someone, and then tell them your PIN code. Full control.
This means that not only your WeChat or QQ use is exposed. All of your phone is exposed. Photos stored, downloads, documents, any Apps to other services installed, chat logs, phone records, contact lists, and of course, your browser and its entire browsing history, which may include credit card and password and login information to other service, for example encrypted emailing you use.
In short, any phone that has WeChat on it, and is also used to access work emails, or secure chat programs like Telegram or Signal, can now be in the hands of Chinese police or state security. For the community of supporters of human rights in China it moves from bad to terrible. You can now, if you communicate with human rights defenders in China through secure Apps or emailing on a phone that has WeChat or QQ installed, inadvertently be giving the Chinese police material that will incriminate those human rights defenders and land them in prison.
To make matters worse, administrator privilege means you microphone can be turned on, and stream whatever is heard to the Chinese police. Same with video camera and camera. It is a most sophisticated spying tool with far-reaching consequences. It can, it goes without saying, read you location, as well as the specific meta-data of your phone.
If that wasn’t enough, there is one last thing, which makes it such a sophisticated virus. It can auto destruct itself. And when doing so, it can not only delete itself from your phone, but wipe much of your phone log data, making it hard even for technically skilled people to know that the virus was ever there. In short, you might never know if your phone, your use, is the reason someone has landed in prison.
A number of control centers in China has been identified to where such data and traffic goes. The code is such that there is little doubt that this ‘Trojan’ comes from the same people behind the earlier ‘Trojan’ targeting Hong Kong Occupy Central people, just much more sophisticated.
Should I worry? What to do?
First off, there is still some lack of understanding how the infection spreads to your phone. At the same time, there is little reason to think resources would be spent to develop such a tool, and then not try to use it. An earlier, much less sophisticated version, was used extensively during the Occupy Central movement. Why would the police and state security organs not use a tool if it’s already been developed, and if it’s this powerful? It should go without saying that you need to operate as if it’s being used widely, and as if you were a target.
Most people with risk awareness will already have made sure to not use WeChat or QQ, or if they felt a strong need to have it, have it installed on a second phone which is not used for anything else. If you need WeChat, like many unfortunately feel they do, at the very least, install it on a blank, factory-reset second phone, like a super cheap android phone. Due to microphone remote control, make sure to never have it in your office or at any discussions.
Secondly, your current phone, if infected, will not be secure just by uninstalling WeChat and QQ. You will have no choice but to do a factory reset. This may be an inconvenience, but it is the only way. It goes without saying that any existing PIN codes, passwords to work emails, etc., will need be changed after you have done this factory reset.
From the editors:
Since this post was launched, we have heard several complaints such as this one: “the article misrepresents the malware report, which does not mention WeChat or QQ as delivery method, but instead as targeted data.” It is true that the threat is posed by a ‘Trojan’ virus, an external program designed to utilize weaknesses through WeChat and QQ. The vulnerability begins when the xRAT “Trojan” has infected your phone, and the “Trojan” aims at infecting those using WeChat or QQ. The WeChat and QQ programs themselves do not contain the “Trojan.” The silent mode in which it can operate nonetheless makes it hard to know if your phone has been infected. The mode of infection, for example through having downloaded and opened a PDF or other type of file, continues to be studied and the mode of infection is not yet clear.
By Chang Ping, July 18, 2017
On July 7, the German professor Markus W Büchler, Chairman of the Department of Surgery, University of Heidelberg, traveled to Shenyang to take part in diagnosing the condition of Liu Xiaobo. Media reports noted that it was the first time in almost a decade that Liu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had seen a foreigner. When I read this line I felt full of grief. The visit of a doctor isn’t anything like that of a friend calling in. Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned for his speech and thought, and apart from the small number of family members who’ve long been under house arrest, no one has been able to see him for all these years. Until he got late-stage liver cancer, when his days on earth were numbered, the only people he was able to see — apart from the doctors, nurses, and a few family members — were the police who had been ordered to keep him under close guard. On July 13, he left the world completely cut off from it.
A group of 154 Nobel Prize laureates signed a joint statement hoping that the Chinese authorities would let Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia freely see their family, and that Liu be allowed to receive treatment anywhere he wished. UN human rights officials, politicians from around the world, human rights organizations and numerous Chinese citizens have said the same thing. The Chinese government pretends they don’t hear it — like a black hole that swallows everything that enters.
While silencing dissidents and shutting up their supporters, the Chinese government has also started projecting its voice on the international scene. Xi Jinping has been more assertive and bolder than any previous leader in boasting in international fora; Chinese state media has even suggested that he’s going to point toward the future direction of mankind. Buying up media, suppressing foreign journalists, and changing global public opinion have become the Chinese government’s undisguised combat strategies. Angela Merkel is content to chat with Xi Jinping for a long while about pandas at the zoo, but when it comes to a dying Liu Xiaobo, she won’t say a word in public. It’s clearly not that she doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care for Liu Xiaobo, but that she’s being stifled by the Chinese government.
Publicly humiliate the Communist Party, or let the Party publicly humiliate you?
Last week, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) held a hearing on human rights conditions in China, which included the remarks of Terence Halliday, co-director of the Center on Law & Globalization at the American Bar Foundation. Halliday said that “At this moment from our longstanding research I have no doubt that when the world speaks out loud and publicly, China listens. China has a very thin skin” (video, 1’33”). Some may see this as publicly shaming to China — but in fact, it’s the Communist Party that has been shaming human rights and democracy. The most Western nations can do is stop or lessen this dishonor.
Would publicly criticizing China have any use? Some would defend Merkel’s failure to publicly mention Liu Xiaobo — that she is making a compromise and getting things done in a low-key manner. Whether it’s getting the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on the brink of death released, or changing China’s authoritarian political system, many people think that “private dialogue” is the most effective path. They even suppose that public pressure will have the opposite of the result intended. Over the past twenty years, the European Union has been holding dialogues on human rights with China quietly, and it is termed “quiet diplomacy.”
But in fact, those who are provided succor are those who have been reported on in the media the most — those who make dictators truly feel the pressure of international public opinion. There are countless unknown victims who have received no lenience since they are so “low key.” In fact, they’re often subject to the most cruel and brutal treatment.
This is not limited to only individual cases. The German scholar Katrin Kinzelbach’s 2014 book “The EU’s Human Rights Dialogue with China: Quiet Diplomacy and its Limits,” traced the development of the EU’s rights dialogue with China from its founding in 1995 until 2010, relying on internal memoranda, a vast array of documents, and extensive interviews with officials from over 20 member states. She spoke with former chairpersons of the dialogue committees and traced the institutional changes in the process. The conclusion of her research was that “quiet diplomacy” exerts almost no positive impact at all on human rights in China. Not only did the dialogue fail to achieve the hoped-for outcome, but it led to the Chinese government holding human rights in more contempt, turning the dialogue into a perfunctory affair and an occasion for them to rebut all questions, criticisms, and suggestions.
China points the world in a dark direction
Two weeks ago Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Initiatives for China, International Campaign for Tibet, Human Rights in China, International Society for Human Rights, and Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) made a joint statement calling on the European Union to suspend human rights dialogues with China. Their reasoning was that this sort of quiet diplomacy, on a particularly low-level this year, hasn’t improved the circumstances of China’s human rights in China, but instead has become a shield for the EU to avoid a thorny issue.
In her book, Kinzelbach writes that the “quiet diplomacy” strategy of human rights dialogues has shown itself to be weak and ineffectual, and that the only effective policy that Europe had on the issue was the prohibition of weapons sales to China after the June 4 massacre. If it wants to change human rights in China, the EU needs to summon up the courage, truly persevere, and support the immense significance of the human rights cause.
When politicians are laughing together about how cute the pandas are, and silent and unmoved while China’s most prominent dissident is dying in isolation, perhaps what China’s official propaganda mouthpieces have said is entirely accurate: In fact, Xi Jinping is pointing to a new direction for mankind, that is, abandoning the painful development of a political culture that safeguards human rights, democracy and liberty, and instead focusing on success in advanced economics and high technology, establishing an even more barbaric, darker, and despicable society that operates according to the law of the jungle.
Chang Ping is a Chinese media veteran and current events commentator now living in political exile in Germany.
The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
Also by Chang Ping:
One Belt, One Road, Total Corruption, May 18, 2017.
China’s ‘Freedom’ Cage, by Chang Ping, 2015.
We’d Be Satisfied With Any Government!, October, 2015.
A China Change interview with Chang Ping:
Li Aijie, April 29, 2017
This is the second and last installment of Li Aijie’s account of her trip. Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 15 years in prison on January 15, 2016, for “inciting subversion of state power” and 5 years for “providing intelligence to foreign organizations.” He’s currently imprisoned in Shaya Prison in remote western Xinjiang. He believes that he is innocent, and has retained an attorney to represent him for a petition for retrial (申诉). — The Editors
On April 22, 2017 I took a train from Urumqi, and arrived in Aksu on the morning of April 23 at around 8:00 a.m. Human rights volunteer Huang Xiaomin (黄晓敏) was already waiting at the train station. After breakfast the four of us—Huang, attorney Ran Tong (冉彤), a driver and I—drove in the cold drizzle. We arrived in the Shaya county seat soon after 5:00 p.m.
After we arranged accommodation, on the morning of April 24 we set off for Shaya Prison. Because we weren’t familiar with the road, we went the wrong way and had to turn back midway. At about 10:30 a.m. we finally arrived at the prison gates. My uneasiness and insomnia due to worrying whether the meeting would take place made me even more exhausted and nervous.
Upon seeing our IDs and paperwork, the guard told us that more procedures were necessary. Attorney Ran Tong and Teacher Huang argued, negotiated, and mediated on the basis of reason and law. The prison guard told us that he needed to ask for instructions from his supervisor. We waited anxiously. After inquiring with his supervisor twice, the guard slowly walked toward us and said: “Your paperwork isn’t complete, and today isn’t a visiting day.” My heart leapt into my throat. He continued, “But we’ve taken into account that you came such a long way. Remember to bring complete paperwork next time.”
The stone hanging in my heart finally fell. I was excited, and silently said to myself: “Praise the Lord! Thank God!” My ardent morning prayer was answered.
I was put on a prison bus with some visiting Uighur family members. Sitting on the bus, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Tears ran down my face just thinking that I would soon see my husband who I missed so much. The bus passed through an expanse of desert. Red poplar trees gave a sense of vicissitude and decay. Under the bright sunlight, they looked scorched and desolate.
About five or six minutes later, the bus stopped in front of a solitary white building. After we got off, men and women each formed a line and went through a strict security check that required removing our shoes. I took out my ID and money and stored the rest of my documents in a prison locker. I deposited 600 yuan, the maximum permitted, for Haitao. I sat on a stool waiting. The television on the wall was streaming the life of the prisoners.
A staff member led me to an office and explained some rules, such as that talking about politics would result in the termination of the visit, and the visit would only last 30 minutes. I was then taken out of the room. After going a short distance we entered another room.
“Your man is in this room,” a police officer said, pointing to my left. Upon entering, I saw three police officers waiting. I immediately saw Haitao sitting on the other side of the glass partition, with two officers standing behind him. Excited, I quickly walked up and sat down opposite. “Husband, you’ve lost weight!” I said hurriedly. “Wife, you have, too!” Haitao said it with a smile. He looked in good spirits and his complexion was good. He appeared clean and calm, which also comforted me.
“Husband, how are you? How is life in here? Have your foot shackles been removed? Does your stomach still hurt?” I bombarded him with questions, concerned that I wouldn’t have enough time to say everything. “I’m not wearing foot shackles anymore. My stomach doesn’t hurt either. When I arrived at the prison I was given a physical exam at Shaya Hospital. Everything is fine. We have a regular routine here. Every morning we get up at 7:30 a.m. After washing, we exercise and then eat. After breakfast, we exercise for another ten minutes or so before we begin studying.” “What do you study?” “We study some traditional culture, such as the teachings of Confucius and Mencius.”
“Do you have a Bible inside? Can you read it? I brought you a Bible the Autumn Rain Church* gave you but I wasn’t allowed to bring it in.” “We’re not allowed to read it inside!” “But you need to pray to God for yourself, your family, friends, for this country, nation, even the police around you. You need to love yourself and love others, okay?” Haitao nodded.
He told me that for meals he has steamed bread, watery gruel, and some small side dishes. If they’re given soybean milk then they get no other dishes. He can have eggs, tofu, even chicken and rice pilaf when it comes time to “improve prisoners’ lives.” “I’m in very good health,” he said.
“Stand up then, walk around and let me see!” I wanted to see for myself. Haitao stood up and walked around. “Okay, not bad. You’re still full of spirit!” I felt relieved and sat back down. “Who accompanied you this time?” Haitao asked. “Huang Xiaomin and attorney Ran Tong. But they’re not allowed to come inside!” “Oh, that makes me feel better. Please thank them for me!” Haitao folded his hands in prayer.
“Before I left, friends all asked me to convey their concern and say hello to you. Sister Wang Yi and her husband Hua Chunhui, and many other friends. Even after I arrived in Shaya County there were still many friends who called to ask me to tell you to exercise, take care of your health, be strong, and hold on, that they’re sure that you will be free soon. We’re all waiting for you!”
Haitao became quiet for quite a while, hands folded in front of him. “Please thank everyone for me. I won’t get discouraged. Please tell everyone not to worry!”
Haitao told me that he will continue to appeal his case.
“I brought our son’s photos, but wasn’t allowed to bring them in. Our son is very naughty, he can’t stop kissing your picture. He also knows how to make calls and he ‘calls’ you. Next time I come I’ll bring him with me.” “Can he talk a lot? Are you all spoiling him too much, and that’s why he’s acting so naughty? Don’t pamper him too much. Can he stand such a long trip? If not, wait until he’s older,” he said, seeming calm. But I saw his eyes getting moist.
I asked Haitao if the prison allowed writing letters to family members. He said he’d mailed two letters. One of them was inspected and rejected by the prison authorities, but the other had been mailed. “You didn’t receive it?” He said he would send me letters every month.
“How are your parents? If you need anything ask my sisters, and tell them I said to do it.” “Okay,” I nodded emphatically.
Presently I heard an urgent voice from behind telling me that I had five minutes left. “Haitao, you must take care of your health. You owe me and our son a lot. When you get out you have to doubly repay us!” I said in a hastened and stern tone of voice.
Thinking that I would part with him soon, I couldn’t help letting my tears flow. A prison guard handed me tissues.
“Wife, I had a dream. It’s so clear I feel it’s real. You’re sitting at the small table where the phone is at home, and you can’t stop calling me. But all you hear is the message that no one is available at the number you’ve dialed. You keep calling, and the phone keeps saying the same thing.”
At this point Haitao was pulled up by two prison guards.
“You’ve gone overtime by almost five minutes!” the prison guard behind me said.
I stood up, putting my hands on the window. Haitao also stretched his hands out and put them against mine on the other side of the glass partition. “Yes, this is true. When you were just arrested I did call you non-stop like this. Husband, you must take good care of your health. Our son and I will wait for you. We will all wait for you!” I choked up with sobs, my tears falling like pearls from a broken thread.
The waiting room door opened. Haitao turned his head toward me, his hands shaking in prayer. Sunlight flooded in, making the whole room very bright, leaving only the corner dark.
I saw Haitao’s smiling face full of brightness and hope, and he was determined and calm. This greatly comforted me.
On my return journey, I thought of the poplar trees that can live for a thousand years. I believe that before long I will be walking freely hand in hand with Haitao.
I can’t help thinking of the suffering Mr. Gao Zhisheng experienced in this prison. It was the unremitting effort and resistance of him and others after him that improved the conditions Zhang Haitao is in now.
This was a long trip. Words can’t express how hard and mentally exhausting it was. A visit like this is also very expensive, something a family like mine can’t afford. I thank all my friends out there for the helping hands you extended to us. It’s your attention, love, and support that give me the strength to go forward. Without you it’s hard to carry on. I would also like to thank Huang Xiaomin for her company and support on this trip, and those who made contacts, arranged drivers and vehicles. Attorney Ran Tong also traveled with us the whole way and gave us free legal assistance. I, on behalf of my husband Zhang Haitao, thank all of you!
Next month I will take my son Little Mandela to Shaya Prison to visit his father whom he has never met. I respectfully invite my friends and people from all walks of life to continue to pay attention. My next visit will be May 25-26. However, the prison told us that we must contact them in advance.
Again, my deepest gratitude to everyone!**
April 25, 2017
*The Autumn Rain Church (秋雨之福) is a large house church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
**A note from our translator: “At first it seemed a bit stilted but it grew on me and I found it affecting.”
U. S. Government Must Intervene in Zhang Haitao’s Case, November 21, 2016.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Li Aijie, April 23, 2017
Born in 1971, the Urumqi-based Zhang Haitao (张海涛) was arrested on June 26, 2015 for his online speech: to be precise, 69 WeChat posts and 205 Twitter posts, including retweets of others’ tweets. On January 15, 2016, Zhang was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and 5 years in prison for “providing intelligence to overseas [entities].” He was given a 19-year sentence. On November 28, 2016, the Superior Court of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region upheld the lower court’s ruling. On December 2, 2016, Zhang Haitao was sent to Shaya Prison in southwestern Xinjiang to serve his jail term, which ends on June 25, 2034, when he will be 63 years old. He hasn’t met his son, “Little Mandela,” born after his incarceration. On April 19, 2017, his wife Li Aijie (李爱杰) embarked on a journey over 2,000 miles that began from their hometown in central China to visit him. — The Editors
April 19, 2017
Zhang Haitao is a native of Henan Province. He’s a prisoner of conscience in Xinjiang for the crime of inciting subversion of state power. He received a severe sentence of 19 years for his “thought crimes.” His second trial was held on November 28, 2016. The Superior Court of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region upheld the original judgement and sentence. On December 2, 2016 he was sent to Shaya Prison in the desert of southwestern Xinjiang. On April 13, 2017, after four months waiting, Haitao’s second eldest sister finally received a telephone call from Shaya Prison approving a family visit.
I feel like a knight-errant. I packed my luggage and set out on the journey. But I don’t have the chivalrous calm and natural gracefulness of a knight-errant, nor his speed and sharpness.
This trip I didn’t bring Little Mandela to see his father, and felt very guilty! Even though I knew Haitao eagerly awaited seeing his son, and Little Mandela missed his father terribly, the journey is long and I didn’t know if his young body could bear it. I have to go first on my own, experience, feel, and learn from it, in order to know just how arduous the journey is.
First stop: Zhenping county — Nanyang city — Zhengzhou city (Henan Province). On the road it was hard to calm my thoughts. My heart and mind was agitated and sad, to such an extent that just starting the trip made me cry. On November 30, 2016, after almost five months of agony, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region detention center Haitao and I met for a brief 20 minutes. It felt like it had been ages since we last saw each other. It was such a difficult meeting, under what circumstances will we meet again? What condition will you be in?
Setting out, I pretend to be strong and chivalrous, but I know I’m just a weak little bird that can’t stand up to any wind. It’s all you friends that give our whole family selfless love and support that gives me the strength to spread my wings and move forward. Following in the footsteps of Mr. Gao Zhisheng*, I cherish the companionship, concern, and support of all you friends on this long journey to Shaya to see my husband! My deep and profound thanks!
April 21, 2017
Dear friends, yesterday I arrived safely at our home in Urumqi. As the plane was delayed, after arriving I had to do some errands and couldn’t respond to friends’ messages in a timely manner. My apologies.
After arriving back at the home I’d left almost five months ago, everything was the same, except it’s all covered by a layer of dust. Opening the bedroom door, my eyes were met by the sight of Haitao’s clothes I’d brought back from the detention center on November 30, 2016, folded neatly on the bed. I was overwhelmed by sadness. Things remain but people are no more. Haitao’s familiar silhouette appears before my eyes, and past events flash back scene by scene…
Although our home is small, only one bedroom and one living room, it’s suffused with love. After eating dinner you always carried me from room to room, never tiring of it, and calling it: “Losing-weight exercise.”
Returning from our walk after dinner, I’d petulantly say I couldn’t walk anymore because when I had just arrived in Xinjiang I thought living on the sixth floor was too high and there was no elevator. You pledged to me: “Don’t worry, I’ll carry you on my back!” You carried me up from the first floor, huffing and puffing, and I teased you: “Piggy carrying his bride!” Your Chinese zodiac animal is the pig, but you don’t want to live like a pig!
Often when we got to the third floor I would try to get off your back. You wanted to keep carrying me, but I didn’t want to tire you, my sweetheart. I remember our happy laughter and cheerful voices as if it was yesterday.
How I want to lean on your sturdy back, and let you carry me one more time! Until we’re so old we can’t go anywhere…
And the chubby child’s poster on the wall. I remember that day you entered the house in low spirits, I took your hand and pushed open the bedroom door. This cute chubby child’s poster appeared before our eyes and you immediately broke into laughter: We are ready to have a child of our own.
But you were not in a hurry: “The doctor said after taking medicine you should wait at least half a year before getting pregnant!” Yes, I was taking medicine to cure six uterine fibroids, and had only stopped for three months. And a month ago I was still taking anti-inflammatory medication (the doctor also said I should stop taking that medicine four months before pregnancy). And you said that we hadn’t shared enough of our two-person paradise yet. I disagreed: “We’re both getting old, we can’t just have a child whenever you want.”
Having so many uterine fibroids, I worried whether I could conceive. Not long before that you also received calls from your family, they wanted us to return home and adopt a child. Your elder sisters didn’t believe I could have a child of my own.
Whenever I think of our son Little Mandela, I am moved to tears! God had mercy on us and granted us this son. When I had been pregnant for a little more than three months, we were immersed in happiness, and then disaster struck. You were taken from our home. Since then, I’ve searched for you so many times in my dreams and couldn’t find you. Our family of three should be enjoying happiness, but now we’re separated by such a great distance.
Opening up the friend group [on WeChat], messages poured in from so many friends. Their love, support, and encouragement overflowed in their words. Their love moved me to tears. I invite all of my friends to continue this journey to Shaya with me!
Editor’s note: On 21st, Li Aijie told RFA that she was leaving Urumqi on the 22nd, she would arrive in Aksu on the 23rd, and Shaya on the 24th. There has been no updates from Li Aijie since the 22nd.
*Lawyer Gao Zhisheng was imprisoned in Shaya Prison from December, 2011 to August, 2014.