Concerns are growing for jailed Xinjiang dissident Zhang Haitao, who has only been allowed three family visits in the past five years of his sentence at a prison in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Zhang, an outspoken critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, is serving a 19-year jail term at Xinjiang’s Shaya Prison for “incitement to subvert state power” and spying charges.
Zhang’s wife Li Aijie fled China with her son after being targeted for threats by local authorities after Zhang was sentenced by the Intermediate People’s Court in Urumqi, regional capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang, on Jan. 15, 2016.
Li told RFA on Wednesday that nobody in the family has had any news of Zhang since their last visit in April 2018.
“Zhang Haitao was detained on Dec. 2, 2016. He was sent to Shaya prison in Xinjiang. His last visit was from his sister on April 26, 2018,” Li said.
“Family members haven’t been allowed by the Chinese government to meet with him for two years and three months,” she said.
“I call on the Chinese government to release Zhang Haitao immediately,” she said. “He is innocent, and our son misses his father very much.”
“He asks me every day when his father will be allowed to come home,” Li said.
Zhang’s sister said prison guards had called an immediate halt to her last meeting with him on April 26, 2018 when they heard her telling him that his wife and son were now safely in the United States.
“Before the visit, the prison guards called us to the office and told us that we wouldn’t be allowed to discuss his wife and child’s departure for the U.S., nor anything to do with religion,” she said.
“About 30 minutes into the visit, we told him about his wife and child, and the meeting was terminated immediately,” she said.
Held in isolation, deprived of exercise
Zhang’s sister said he was being held in solitary confinement with no exercise in the open air.
“He said he was alone, and I asked if he was allowed to go outside for exercise, but he said there was a door which had been sealed off,” she said.
She said the authorities had refused to allow her to visit again, despite frequent telephone requests.
“They told me it was on orders from higher up,” she said. “Later on, nobody even picked up.”
Repeated calls to Shaya Prison rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
At Zhang’s trial, the prosecution cited 69 posts to the Chinese social media platform WeChat and 205 Twitter posts and reweets, as evidence of inciting subversion of state power.
Li, who gave birth to the couple’s son shortly after he was jailed, and was left with no income, was relying on relatives for financial support, she told RFA at the time.
But ChinaAid, which helped to organize her escape from China, said she had faced abuse within her family as well as threats from officials.
Zhang, 46, was initially detained on June 26, 2015 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” but the charges against him were later changed to the more serious charges of subversion and spying.
The court said it had handed down a longer jail term because Zhang had “colluded” with overseas organizations.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Source: Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036. https://www.rfa.org.