The wife of jailed rights activist Zhang Haitao, a critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's treatment of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, was recently allowed to visit him for the first time in prison after he was jailed for 19 years on subversion and spying charges in January 2016. Zhang’s unusually harsh sentence came after he had openly criticized government policy in the troubled region. His wife Li Aijie, who gave birth to the couple's child shortly after his detention, recently spoke to RFA’s Mandarin Service about her visit to the remote Shaya prison near Aksu:
"I arrived in [Xinjiang's regional capital] Urumqi on April 22. I set off from Urumqi at 7.03 p.m. and reached Aksu on the 23rd, at 7.42 a.m. and then I arrived in Shaya on the 24th. Haitao's sister didn't come, perhaps because she was waiting to see if I would come this time.
It didn’t go that smoothly, but it didn’t go too badly. They had to ask their bosses two or three times before I was finally able to get in to see Haitao. They allowed the 30-minute allocated time to overrun a little to about 40 minutes.
I wanted to take in photos to show him but they wouldn’t let me. They wouldn’t let me take in the Bible I brought for him, either.
I took photos at the entrance of the jail which made them extremely nervous and scared, until I promised them solemnly that I wouldn’t post any photos in or near the jail online.
Haitao isn’t doing too badly, both physically and psychologically. I asked him about life inside, and he said he gets regular daily exercise following meals, after which he studies. He is studying traditional culture; Mencius and Confucius and that kind of thing.
They get rice gruel and steamed buns for breakfast, and some vegetables. If they ‘improve their lives’ they get to eat chicken and rice, or maybe eggs and tofu. I asked if they limit how much they can eat and he said no, they can eat as much as they want. He doesn’t have to do labor in prison.
He gets up at 7.00 a.m. every day and does some exercises, then eats. After breakfast, they are allowed to exercise. Then he studies. After lunch there is a rest period of one hour, after which he studies again. They go to bed at 10.30 p.m.
I asked him why he hadn’t written to me lately, and he said he had written me two letters. The first wasn’t approved by the prison censors, so it was never sent. I have yet to receive the other letter. I don’t know why.
He told me that he wants to appeal, but the prison officials told me that there are some papers to fill out first, which need to be filed with the prosecutor’s office or wherever, then he can appeal."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.