Mother pleads for son's release

Martin van den Hemel

Mother pleads for son's release

By Martin van den Hemel

Staff Reporter

Tears welling up in her eyes, the 84-year-old Richmond mother of jailed human rights advocate Dr. Bingzhang Wang said she simply wants to see her son again before she dies.

Wang's family, including his mother Guifang and father Junzhen, 86, and sisters Linda and Mei, held a press conference Wednesday morning in front of the Chinese consulate on Granville Street in Vancouver to raise awareness about Wang's declining health and to plead for his release.

"We are old and very ill," Guifang said, speaking through Edward Qiu, Wang's nephew, who served as translator. "He is not a criminal. He is working for the freedom of all Chinese people. He is not a bad person."

According to Timothy Cooper, executive director of Worldrights, a human rights advocacy group, Wang was kidnapped in June of 2002 while in Vietnam during a meeting with Chinese labour leaders near the border between China and Vietnam.

"(He was) held incommunicado after being dragged across the border illegally by what we believe were nothing less than a band of Chinese government agents."

After Wang disappeared, his family was unaware of his plight and the Chinese government denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.

In December of 2002, he was charged with espionage and "leading a terrorist organization."

Wang was convicted in January of 2003 following a trial that lasted just hours, and was sentenced to life in prison by what Cooper described as a "kangaroo court."

"We want to make it very clear that the family now is calling for the release of Dr. Wang on humanitarian grounds."

His family had been given monthly visitation rights while Wang was held in solitary confinement and denied any contact with fellow inmates.

Those visitation rights were cut off last January for unknown reasons and Wang's family was left in the dark for about six months. It wasn't until three weeks ago that Wang's younger sister Mei was allowed to visit her brother and learned of his medical condition.

Wang, a medical doctor, had suffered a stroke but Chinese government officials deny his condition is as serious as his family claims.

With two guards standing behind her and speaking through a telephone while her brother sat on the other side of a window in a small concrete room, Mei Wang, who currently lives in Seattle, Washington, was allowed to speak to him for about 40 minutes.

Their conversation was monitored, and they were forbidden from speaking about anything other than their families.

"He was very thin and I was really shocked to see how much weight he lost and he was kind of leaning towards his left. I thought maybe he was uncomfortable with handcuffs and the chain on his feet. He immediately told me 'I had a stroke,'" Mei Wang said, her voice beginning to quiver with emotion.

"It was very devastating for me to hear this. Then he showed me his hands. Both hands appeared to be in different colour."

Wang told his sister that his stroke required a month-long hospitalization and occurred shortly after the last visit he had with his other sister.

That visit ended prematurely after both became emotional, and Wang got depressed and launched his hunger strike.

Over the past year, Wang's family has called upon governments across the world to request Wang's release.

The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention declared his imprisonment arbitrary, while the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution 399 to zero, calling for his immediate return to the United States. Wang lived in New York City for about 20 years before moving to Los Angeles.

Most of Wang's family, including his parents and sister, moved to Richmond last December, partly because of Richmond's strong Chinese flavour and also because they were hopeful that Richmond would be led by a Chinese politician.

Wang's family met with Richmond MP Raymond Chan Wednesday afternoon, and he promised to raise their concerns with Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew.

Chan said he met Wang during a human rights conference in the United States about 20 years ago, when Chan was active in the human rights movement.

"I am aware of the situation and I have alerted foreign affairs. I share their concerns."

Jennie Chen, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Canada, said they are aware of Wang's situation.

"We have concerns about his trial and about the transparency of the legal process in this case. This is a file we continue to follow very closely."

Amnesty International's Jennifer Wade said Amnesty is not asking for Wang's release, but is simply requesting a fair trial.

"What is dangerous is these trumped up charges of terrorism and espionage, this is China using the mood of the world at the moment and this is the first real case of it."

© Copyright 2004 Richmond Review