Li Aijie, wife of jailed rights activist Zhang Haitao, a critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's treatment of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, landed with the couple's young child in the United States on Dec. 23 after fleeing China via Thailand. She had been targeted for threats by local authorities after Zhang was handed a 19-year jail term by the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi, regional capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang, on Jan. 15, 2016. She spoke to RFA's Cantonese Service about her escape, and her plans for the future:
RFA: How did you decide on a route out of China?
Li Aijie: Well, I have a story to tell about the first time I went to Hong Kong. I had signed up with a tour group, and I separated myself from them. I just left without telling them I was going. Then the tour group leaders reported it to the police, and several police came to find me. So [I knew] none of the tour group people could be trusted. If I was going to leave, I knew it would have to be with a friend [but] they weren't going to allow that. They followed us [as we were leaving] for quite a long way, all the way onto the subway. Back then I had been planning to bring my son along, but I didn't in the end, because the family didn't agree. This time, I just left, taking my son with me. I had a visa for Thailand and a return plane ticket, from Hong Kong to Thailand, so arrival went pretty smoothly.
RFA: So you finally landed in Texas with your son on Dec. 23. What are your plans now?
Li Aijie: I plan to get used to the new environment and learn the language, first of all. Now I am in a free country, I want to speak out about my husband's plight, and let the whole world know the truth. My husband is innocent, yet he has been sentenced to 19 years in prison. He is not guilty.
RFA: How are things going for you here in the U.S.?
Li Aijie: People here in the U.S. have been so very kind. I have really felt their genuine concern and care, as if we were their own family. [My son] is very happy. Sometimes he jumps and runs around the place, or he suddenly starts singing or dancing by himself. He is very, very happy.
But my son has never seen his father before, and we just hope one day to be reunited with Zhang Haitao. We call on the international community to show concern for all Chinese prisoners of conscience, and to work for their eventual freedom.
Reported by Ma Lap-hak and Pan Jiaqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.