Ti-Anna Wang – 王天安 – Fighting For My Father’s Freedom

I would like to thank the Oslo Freedom Forum for honoring me with the opportunity to share my story with.

I would like to thank the Oslo Freedom Forum for honoring me with the opportunity to share my story with the distinguished guests in this audience. My name is Ti-Anna and my father, Wang Bingzhang, is a Chinese political prisoner currently serving a life sentence for his work in pro-democracy activism. Having lived through the Chinese Communist Party’s cultural revolution and other political campaigns and purges, my father became smitten by the values of democracy he experienced as a PHD student in Canada. So he gave up his medical career and instead devoted his life to what he believed were basic freedoms long overdue to the Chinese people. Exiled from his homeland, he spent 20 years traveling the world and working towards his dream of democratic transformation of China. In 2002, while traveling in Vietnam, my father was abducted into China where he was arrested by Chinese police. Six months later, he was subjected to a secret trial, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for terrorism and espionage. For over a decade, he has been serving his sentence in solitary confinement. In recent years, his despair and isolation have sent both his physical and mental health into devastating decline. In a country without meaningful rule of law my family has no means to appeal my father’s conviction despite having secured exonerating evidence for the charges against him. The lawyers we’ve retained on his behalf, are routinely intimidated by authorities obstructed from visiting him, and threatened with disbarment. Even I have been unable to visit him for the past 5 years as my outspokenness on his behalf has been punished by the Chinese government who repeatedly refuse my visa applications. Indeed it’s now been over 10 years since I first set out to try to win my father’s freedom. In 2008, I deferred going to university and moved to Washington D.C. for one year, to advocate full-time for his release. Since then, I have continued to meet with government officials, NGOs journalists, whoever will hear my story to try to win my father’s freedom. For the first several years, it was a fairly lonely venture. Recently however, I have been joined by an increasing number of other young women whose fathers are also in prison in China. They are political refugees who only recently settled in Canada and the United States. Together, we form a small community supporting each other in our efforts to reunite our families. I think of Bridget, who fled China 3 years ago to seek asylum in the United States. Her father, Leoshan Bing, has been in and out of prison for most of Bridget’s life for writing about social injustice. Notably, as her mother was unable to leave China with her Bridget does not know when she will see either of her parents again. Then there is Grace who’s dad, Gao Zhisheng, is a renounced human rights lawyer and who was severely tortured during years or arbitrary detention. Recently I met Ruoyu, who recently escaped China just a few months ago with her mom. Her father, Chang Boyang is a public interest lawyer and his work in representing victims with AIDS and the tainted milk scandal landed him in jail. She is advocating for the release of her father who is currently still awaiting trial. But, despite our collective efforts, the past few years have been marked largely by a sense of defeat. My father is still in solitary confinement. Grace’s dad, though he was recently released, is in dire health and the true state of his freedom remains ambiguous. Meanwhile, the human rights situation in China worsens as the government continues to escalate the crackdown on outspoken democracy activists and human rights defenders. Even our little group of dissident daughters is growing with more activists being thrown into prison with each passing week. Just a few weeks ago I was in Washington D.C with these young women again petitioning the US State Department to intervene more assertively on our behalves. And in a private moment, one wondered out loud if our efforts to raise awareness for their cases were ultimately in vain. What is the purpose of organizing the endless and seemingly fruitless press conferences, interviews, and meetings? What do we have to show for our years of toil? Frustrated with the futility of her campaign, she was overcome with fatigue. Unlike our fathers who went into their activism willingly our burdens are largely inherited and not of our own choosing. Yet, somewhat ironically, our efforts in trying to win their freedom has given us firsthand experience with the exact types of anti-democratic anti-human rights practices that they fought so hard to combat and has thus instilled in all of us a very genuine conviction that China must change. But we often lack our father’s courage and brazenness and as young women just trying to find our own way in the world find it difficult to share their all consuming commitment to political reform. And so when we realize that despite our constant campaigning our fathers continue to languish in prison it takes an emotional toll and causes us to doubt. So I stumbled for words to comfort my sister in arms as I too suffer from similar feelings of disenchantment. I’ve since reflected more on her question and here’s what I would I tell her today, indeed, here is what I tell myself. I tell myself the truth and that is that it is a privilege to be given this mission to take part in such a noble cause. Honoring our father’s sacrifices doesn’t mean that we must all become extraordinary democracy and human rights activists ourselves. But, it gives us a small chance to stand on the right side of history and to make our own small contribution to human progress. By speaking out for them, we are made better, our lives are made richer and our perspectives are broadened, and for that we can be thankful. Second, I remind myself that we are not alone. Confronting the evermore powerful Chinese government can certainly feel isolating and lonely but when we see students in Hong Kong, younger than ourselves persevering in their struggle for the right to choose their own leaders and when we think about our friends from Tibet working patiently and against tremendous odds to win a measure of freedom we realize that our father’s imprisonment while deeply personal and unique to us, is part of a much larger struggle for basic rights, one in which we have many many allies. And given that these allies are often facing challenges considerably more daunting than our own we only need to look to them for wisdom, inspiration, and support. Finally, I take comfort in the fact that history tells us that no sacrifice for just causes is wasted and that progress is a cumulative effort. So while not all our endeavors will have dramatic results I believe they all move us in the right direction. Perhaps only slightly, perhaps even imperceptibly but the important thing is that we keep moving. At the very least, everyday that we choose to fight on instead of giving up contributes to keeping hope alive which in this line of work is by no means a trivial thing. Part of our jobs then, as daughters of Chinese political prisoners is to stoke at these embers of hope by telling and retelling our fathers’ story which are gradually becoming our own. That is what I have tried to do here today, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.

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