04/24/2017, 15.05
CHINA
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A wife’s 2,000-mile journey to see her jailed activist husband

Zhang Haitao was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 19 years in prison for some online posts. Since he was incarcerated last December, he has not seen either his wife or newly born child. On 19 April, his wife set out to visit him in the Xinjian desert.

Urumqi (AsiaNews/ChinaChange) – Li Aijie on 19 April embarked on a long and difficult trip to reach Shaya Prison, in southwestern Xinjiang. She has not since her husband, human rights activist Zhang Haitao, since last November. He was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 19 years in prison for "instigating subversion of state powers".

In her still ongoing trip, she shares the pain of seeing her husband taken away shortly before the birth of their first child, whom he has never seen. She decided against bringing the latter along for fear that his little body might not withstand the trials of the journey.

Since 2 December, Zhang Haitao has been serving his sentence. His prison term will end on 25 June 2034, when he will be 63 years old. On 21 April, Li Aijie told Radio Free Asia that she was going to leave Urumqi on 22 April, reach Aksu on 23 April and Shaya on 24 April. The story of her journey was published yesterday on China Change. Since 22 April, it has not been updated.

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 your 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 your 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!

* Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer, was imprisoned in Shaya Prison from December 2011 to August 2014.

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