Cana­dian turned back in at­tempt to visit dis­si­dent fa­ther in Chi­nese prison

North Bay Nugget - - NATIONAL NEWS - Mike Blanch­field

OT­TAWA — Ti-anna Wang was one pass­port stamp away from see­ing her im­pris­oned fa­ther in a Chi­nese prison be­fore her dream was shat­tered yet again.

On Wed­nes­day, the Mon­treal woman ar­rived in south­ern China where her fa­ther, Wang Bingzhang — con­sid­ered the fa­ther of China’s ill-fated in­ter­na­tional pro-democ­racy move­ment — has been jailed since Chi­nese agents snatched him in Viet­nam in 2002 and hauled him back to the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic.

her 11-month-old daugh­ter was strapped into her pa­poose-style body car­rier and her hus­band was by her side. Wang’s pass­port con­tained a fresh Chi­nese visa, some­thing she had been de­nied for 10 years. But it wasn’t enough.

her in­fant daugh­ter and hus­band were deemed free to en­ter China. But she was not. So be­gan a six-hour or­deal that would see Wang and her fam­ily locked in an air­port de­ten­tion room be­fore they could be sent to a nearby South Korean is­land on the next avail­able flight.

“I can’t re­ally ar­tic­u­late the dis­ap­point­ment be­cause it’s just so crush­ing,” Wang said Thurs­day by tele­phone from the South Korean is­land of Jeju.

Wang said she knew the risks as­so­ci­ated with trav­el­ling to China fol­low­ing last month’s im­pris­on­ment of fel­low Cana­di­ans Michael Kovrig and Michael Spa­vor, which ap­peared to be re­tal­i­a­tion for Canada’s ar­rest of high-pro­file Chi­nese ex­ec­u­tive Meng Wanzhou. But she was de­ter­mined to make the jour­ney be­cause she might never get a chance to see her fa­ther again, and she thought the sight of his new grand­daugh­ter might boost his wan­ing spir­its.

Wang has for years pushed the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to work to­wards re­leas­ing her fa­ther. There is one hitch: while she is a Cana­dian cit­i­zen, he is not, de­spite a strong his­toric con­nec­tion to Canada.

Wang Bingzhang was one of the first gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese stu­dents to come to Canada and he got his doc­tor­ate from Mcgill Uni­ver­sity. While in Mon­treal, he planted Cana­dian roots, which in­cluded hav­ing chil­dren who would be­come cit­i­zens. his ex­po­sure to democ­racy sparked hope of im­port­ing it to his birth coun­try.

Ti-anna was born in 1989, the year the Chi­nese mil­i­tary killed stu­dent pro­test­ers in the Tianan­men Square mas­sacre, and he named her in hon­our of the fallen.

his ab­duc­tion and widely de­rided trial in China in 2002 earned him a spot on a du­bi­ous list of 16 po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers that Amnesty In­ter­na­tional urged Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau to ad­vo­cate for dur­ing his most re­cent trip to China in late 2017. The list in­cluded huseyin Celil, an ad­vo­cate of China’s per­se­cuted Uighur com­mu­nity from south­ern On­tario, who re­ceived a life sen­tence in 2007.

When Wang’s fa­ther was ar­rested, she was a teenager. Now 30, she has be­come a vo­cal hu­man-rights ac­tivist, and has been ha­rassed by Chi­nese of­fi­cials dur­ing a United Na­tions pre­sen­ta­tion. She mar­ried, and this past Fe­bru­ary had her first child, a girl.

Wang said she gave up push­ing the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to do more for her fa­ther, so she asked Global Af­fairs Canada to fo­cus on some­thing spe­cific — push­ing China to grant her a visa, which her ac­tivism had barred her from get­ting since 2009.

In Au­gust, she re­ceived word that the visa would be granted. She doesn’t know how or why, but she was grate­ful for the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts. With a new daugh­ter, and a hus­band study­ing at uni­ver­sity, they made a plan in Novem­ber to travel in Jan­uary.

Then the dec. 1 ar­rest of Meng oc­curred and the ar­rests of Spa­vor and Kovrig fol­lowed.

“They (Global Af­fairs) said that they would not tell us not to go but they would just say that they think that I’m some­one who could be vul­ner­a­ble in this sit­u­a­tion,” she said.

So she and her hus­band de­cided to keep the trip to China short — just 48 hours — and Global Af­fairs said it would have a diplo­mat ac­com­pany them while in China. Wang and her hus­band trav­elled to South Ko­rea in early Jan­uary to stay with his rel­a­tives be­fore mak­ing the hop to China.

They tele­phoned China’s pris­ons bureau to say they were com­ing. They landed in hangzhou, in­tend­ing to travel to Guangzhou, where her fa­ther has been im­pris­oned. Then they hit a wall.

“I got the sense they were wait­ing for me be­cause the bor­der agent was com­mu­ni­cat­ing with an­other agent and said some­thing like ‘That’s her.’ ”

She and her daugh­ter were shuf­fled off to a small room by po­lice, where they spent the next hour with of­fi­cers al­ways with them, be­fore her hus­band was re­u­nited with them.

They spent six hours there be­fore her hus­band was able to buy them tick­ets on a late-night flight to Jeju.

Wang said it’s dis­tress­ing to think about what Kovrig and Spa­vor are en­dur­ing, but she has mixed feel­ings.

“Cases like that make me feel a lit­tle bit sad be­cause I know that it means that my fa­ther’s case can­not be a pri­or­ity,” she said. “When the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment is ne­go­ti­at­ing on these is­sues with the Chi­nese, they can­not ask for too much each time.”

Su­san WALSH/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

From left, Lisa Peng, hold­ing a photo of her fa­ther Peng Ming, Grace Ge Geng, hold­ing photo of her fa­ther Gao Zhisheng, Ti-anna Wang, hold­ing photo of her fa­ther Wang Bingzhang, Brid­gette Chen hold­ing photo of her fa­ther Liu Xian­bing, and Danielle Wang, hold­ing photo of her fa­ther Wang Zhi­wen, are in­tro­duced prior to tes­ti­fy­ing in Wash­ing­ton in 2013.

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