Cover Story

Remember those who are in prison

"Remember those who are in prison" Continued...

Issue: "2012 Daniels of the Year," Dec. 15, 2012

Guo’s advocacy began in 2007 when he was a professor at Nanjing Normal University. He published an open letter to China’s president calling for multi-party elections. His letter to the Chinese premier defended the rights of 590,000 workers laid off by the China National Petroleum Corporation, and called for abolishing China’s re-education through labor system for political offenders.

“I was raised to be independent, but after I became a Christian, I realized it’s all dependent on God.”

—Bridgette Chen

Li says her husband also wrote articles about Christian thinking, and discussed Christian principles in class. Students began complaining about his lectures and outspoken advocacy. In December 2007, Communist officials fired Guo from his job at the university.

The activist continued his work, and published a “China New Democracy Party Charter” online. A year later, he had published hundreds of articles via the internet criticizing one-party dictatorship and corruption in government, and condemning human-rights abuses.

Li says the backlash was immediate: Authorities raided their home several times in the middle of the night. They smashed locks on the doors. They confiscated computers. They installed surveillance cameras at the apartment complex, and monitored the family’s phone, internet use, and mail.

Li says Guo’s Christian conscience compelled him to continue: “He’s a Christian and professor. He thinks he has some responsibility for the society, so he never stopped writing.”

On Nov. 13, 2008, authorities stopped Guo by arresting him for subversion of state power. Nine months later, Li was stunned when she learned her husband’s sentence: 10 years in prison.

“[Guo is] a Christian and professor. He thinks he has some responsibility for the society, so he never stopped writing.”

—Li Jing

One of Li’s few solaces was the opportunity to visit her husband in a prison not far from their home. Guo asked her to bring a Bible, and when officials wouldn’t allow it, Guo told her to ask the guards what law allowed them to issue such a denial. She says the guards relented, and she delivered the Bible.

Local authorities didn’t relent. They continued to monitor Li’s movements, and pressured her employer to reduce her hours. Slowly, Li began losing her means of providing for her son.

As the surveillance and harassment peaked, Li made a difficult decision: She would try to flee to the United States. She believed moving to America would offer her only chance to publicize her husband’s case, and advocate for his cause.

But first, Li wanted her husband’s approval. Before she entered the prison’s visitation room, she wrote in tiny letters on her thumbprint: “I take our son and go to the U.S.” As they talked, Li pressed her hand to the glass separating the pair. When Guo saw her message, he slowly nodded. Li knew he approved.

The months ahead involved painstaking arrangements and a high-risk plan. Li obtained permission to visit a neighboring country with friends for a short vacation. (She even discussed the vacation on the phone so eavesdropping authorities would hear.) 

When she arrived across the border, Li and her son defected from the group. U.S. contacts helped arrange her passage to Los Angeles, and representatives from ChinaAid met her at the airport. Li is still surprised the plan worked: “I think God arranged it. It’s amazing.”

A month after she arrived, Li appeared on Capitol Hill with Geng He. The pair testified about their husbands’ plights to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. They requested meetings with White House officials, but never received a reply. On the same day, President Barack Obama met Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in the Oval Office. A 300-man honor guard greeted the Chinese official with a 19-gun salute at the Pentagon.

Li remains determined to press her husband’s case. In the meantime, she’s polishing her quickly learned English, and helping her son adjust to life in the United States. She attends a local church and relies on prayers from believers. And after years of constant harassment, she’s learning to relax: “For the first time in so many years.”

Li hopes conditions will change in China. Despite an increase in political arrests, more Chinese have conducted public protests and expressed anger at government abuses online. “The world is more open,” she says. “It cannot be stopped.”

Until then, she shares a letter her husband wrote to her son expressing his hopes for the boy who will be a man by the time his father’s prison sentence is complete: “Many people want their children to be rich, preeminent, powerful or great. … Only a righteous person could be preeminent. My son, please remember what God taught us: It is meaningless for me to be rich and powerful if I am not righteous.”

Gao Zhisheng

Age: 48 
Incarcerated: Shaya Prison in Xinjiang Province 
Case File: Gao is serving at least three years in a remote prison in western China. (Authorities have detained him for months in the past.) The outspoken Christian attorney has defended religious minorities, including a network of house-church pastors in Beijing.

Liu Xianbin

Age: 44
Incarcerated: Chuanzhong Prison in Sichuan Province
Case File: Liu is serving a 10-year prison sentence for his democracy and human-rights activism, including calls for religious freedom. The Christian dissident was one of the original signers of Charter 08—a pro-democracy document condemned by Chinese authorities.

Guo Quan

Age: 44
Incarcerated: Pukou Prison in Nanjing (Jiangsu Province)
Case File: Guo is serving a 10-year sentence for his writings on democracy and human rights. Guo’s wife says his Christian conscience compels him to defend political, religious, and personal freedoms.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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