China Dissident Zhang Lin’s Daughters Come to The US – The Backstory
By Ann Noonan
In a human rights case reported on by Radio Free Asia (RFA), Voice of America (VOA) and Chinese underground media, Women’s Rights in China (WRIC) in conjunction with Women’s Rights Without Frontiers (WRWF) have been working closely together for months to help two daughters of Chinese dissident Zhang Lin, Anni and Ru Li, leave China and live in freedom. They arrived in California on September 7, 2013. Anni will be staying there with WRWF President Reggie Littlejohn. On September 11, Ru Li arrived in New York from California to reunite with some of her family and friends who have been living in the US.
As stories continue to unfold about this 10-year old girl and her sister, their father, Zhang Lin, is still in prison in China. Three other human rights activists remain in jail because of their public support for Anni’s right to go to school and for their assistance in sending Anni to live in the US.
Earlier this year, Yao Cheng, a volunteer for Women’s Rights in China, offered living space in his home for his dissident friend Zhang Lin and his daughters. Zhang Lin’s family was poor and Ru Li’s college was in the same city as Yao Cheng’s house. Thanks to Yao Cheng’s help, Zhang Lin was able to keep his daughters living together at his friend’s home while they attended school.
Zhang Lin enrolled Anni at the Hupo Primary School in Hefei City. She happily attended school there until February 27, 2013 when the local police removed her from her school and brought her to the local police station where they detained her alone, without food or water, for the rest of the day. She was unaware of the fact that her father was also being detained in the same building until they brought them together in detention. Anni was kept in the police station for 20 hours.
After her release, Anni was no longer permitted to attend the Hupo Primary School.
Outrage over the police detention of a 10-year old girl and the school’s barring her return to school spread throughout China. Yao Chen helped to organize lawyers and citizens to unite in protest against the government’s abuse of a little girl. Women’s Rights in China prepared a banner that read: “Let Anni Go to School.”
News reports documented clashes between protesters and local police. Many of Anni’s supporters were badly beaten by the police and arrested. Zhang Lin and Yao Cheng were among those who were beaten and arrested. They were all released the next day.
Protests against the removal of Anni from school by the Anhui police continued. More and more people became involved, and people from all over China donated money to help offset the expenses of those protesting. Online petitions in many countries demanding that Anni be permitted to attend school were signed by thousands of people.
Women’s Rights in China facilitated an opportunity for Americans to bear witness on a Chinese Internet radio broadcast (Boxun Radio) to the injustice Anni and her supporters were enduring.
Boxun Radio invited me and Reggie Littlejohn to speak with Anni during this broadcast. During the program, Reggie Littlejohn told Anni, “Be brave, be true, be humble, and one day you will help lead your people to freedom.”
I said to Anni: “I hope they let you go back to school so you can study and learn as much as you want, and when you are an educated woman, I hope you will be able to use these experiences to make your country and our world a safer place for children and families to live.”
Another spate of arrests occurred just days after this Boxun radio broadcast. US-based Women’s Rights in China president Jing Zhang explained:
“Once again, the Anhui Police beat and arrested Yao Cheng and many others as they protested against the injustice of preventing Anni from going to school. Even Chou Wenlin, a wheel-chair bound man who supports Anni’s right to education, was arrested that day. The money that had been collected by Anni’s supporters was confiscated by the police, and never returned. Zhang Lin, lawyers and supporters were detained for 10 – 15 days. They were arrested even though they didn’t do anything to break the law.”
During this summer, while Anni’s father Zhang Lin remained in jail, Anni’s 19-year old sister, Ri Li stayed living with her little sister. With their father in jail, the police maintained a tight surveillance on the two girls, and made several attempts to send Anni to live in an orphanage.
From the United States, Jing Zhang and Reggie Littlejohn worked through various private and official channels to arrange for Anni to come to the US to live with Reggie Littlejohn and her husband and to go to school in California. Plans were made for Anni’s sister to accompany her 10-year old sister on the flight. Anni’s birth mother had to stay with the girls at all times to prevent the police from forcing Anni to live in an orphanage.
Yao Cheng suspected that the Anhui police would try to prevent the girls from going to Shanghai to apply for their US visas. Friends offered to take the three cell phones that belonged to Anni, Anni’s mother, and Ru Li, and go to a shopping area. If the police were using GPS to track Anni and her family, they would think they were out shopping. Since the police could not follow their movements through GPS, the three bought tickets and traveled to Shanghai where they submitted the visa applications to the US Consulate for Anni and her sister to come to the United States. While in Shanghai they stayed in a hotel with Yao Cheng.
Yao Cheng asked some of his friends to hold on to Anni’s and Ru Li’s passports in case the hotel room was raided. He was sure that if the police found their passports, they would be confiscated, and neither of them would be able to travel. As predicted, the police raided the hotel. They were unable to locate the girls’ passports. Right in front of Anni and Ru Li, they arrested Yao Cheng, handcuffed him, and took him away. They also took the money Yao Cheng had raised to pay for the airplane tickets for Anni and her sister.
Anni’s mother was distraught and didn’t know what to do. She did not know who had her daughters’ passports and contacted Jing Zhang in the US. Jing reached Yao Cheng’s friends in China who were holding the passports and asked them to meet Anni’s mother at a nearby shop. Anni’s mother retrieved the passports and returned to the hotel where she could finally complete the visa forms and submit them to the US Consulate.
The next day, Anni and Ru Li went to the Consulate to get their visas. Jing contacted Chinese dissident Hu Jia who had offered to help and asked him to arrange to purchase the plane tickets. Hu Jia purchased the tickets.
One day later, the Consulate brought Anni, her mother, and Ru Li to the airport so the two girls could board a plane to the US. When Jing Zhang learned that they had landed safely and were welcomed by Reggie Littlejohn and her husband, she breathed a sigh of relief for the two girls. But Jing Zhang and Women’s Rights in China remain concerned about the plight of Yao Cheng and Zhang Lin, Li Huaping, and Chou Weilin.
Jing Zhang insists: “We cannot ignore the plight of these brave men whose personal sacrifice allowed 10-year old Anni go to school and live in freedom. They should be honored for their selflessness -– and not languish in China’s prisons.”
Through the years, Anni’s father Zhang Lin has served more than 13 years in China’s Laogai, the forced labor camps system. In his book, “Sorrowful Soul,” Zhang Lin wrote:
“China’s prison is worse than hell, especially for political prisoners. It is hard to survive. Beside physical torture and the hardship of diseases, one suffers mentally and spiritually. The soul is in deep sorrow. Under such circumstances, a person cannot keep up his normal human nature. Unknowingly, he or she is poisoned, numbed and mentally disabled.”
Jing Zhang explained Yao Cheng’s role in Women’s Rights in China (WRIC):
“Yao Cheng is almost 50 years old. He has done tremendous work as a volunteer for WRIC. His first successful effort was to document the current situation of child-brides in China. He is also credited for his work that shed light on the plight of abandoned children who were sent to orphanages.
Because of his support for Anni’s right to go to school, he has been detained as a criminal in China, along with Anni’s father and two other supporters.
The money that was donated by people in China to send Anni to live in the United States so she could go to school was held by Yao Cheng until the Anhui Police took it away from him. The police have never returned the money.
The first time Yao Cheng was detained, it was for 10 days. The second time, it was for 15 days. Since his latest arrest, Yao Cheng remains in jail – even though he committed no crime except for caring for a little girl Anni.
This is an abuse of authority. We hope the world will pay attention to Yao Cheng’s case and join Women’s Rights in China in our call for his immediate and unconditional release.”
The article was written by Ann Noonan, Executive Director of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org), an independent organization which supports free flow of uncensored news to nations without free media. Noonan and journalist and writer Ted Lipien founded CUSIB in 2011.
CUSIB advocates for more Congressional funding for US broadcasts by Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV) and Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti), which are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
WRIC President Jing Zhang and WRWF President Reggie Littlejohn are both members of CUSIB’s Advisory Board.