the suffering of children in the families of Chinese dissidents

A report published by Chinese Human Rights Defenders tells the stories of children and young people who are victims of human rights repression. The extreme case of He Fengmei, confined in a psychiatric hospital in Henan and separated from her daughter a month after giving birth. The child who is rejected from all schools because her father, a lawyer, defended the activists. Xinjiang children placed in schools as “orphans” to uproot them from their families.

Milan () – Even the youngest children in the People's Republic of China are direct victims of the repression of any form of dissent. This is the chilling conclusion that emerges from the new report “If I disobey, my family will also suffer.“, published yesterday by Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a coalition of NGOs committed to defending human rights in China. The study, which collects news from the year 2023, focuses attention on all forms of collective punishment that They affect the families of those who have exposed themselves in the battle for freedoms in China. But – along with the arrest of spouses or the forced separations of family members – what is striking in the stories collected by the CHRD is. a series of forms of intimidation used by the Chinese authorities and that also directly affect the children of dissidents.

Emblematic in this sense is the case of He Fengmei, a woman from Henan who protested in 2020 against Chinese Covid vaccines that were considered unsafe. She and her husband were arrested one after the other by the police in October 2020. The woman, her 6-year-old son and her 4-year-old daughter were locked up in the Henan Xinxiang Gongji psychiatric hospital. At the time, He Fangmei was five months pregnant and gave birth to a daughter in February 2021. A month later, she was arrested and transferred to the Xinxiang Detention Center, separating her from the newborn, who was left in the psychiatric hospital together. with his other children. Some time later, the girl was placed in foster care, without the consent of her parents or close relatives. But the other two children remained in the psychiatric hospital despite their relatives' pleas to entrust them to her care.

When Ms. He's lawyers finally obtained permission to visit her in prison for the first time in late 2022, they also tried to see the children in the psychiatric hospital. The security guards prevented them from entering the gate and said they had no information about it. In early 2024, a group of activists said that local government officials showed up at He Fangmei's brother's house to try to get her 75-year-old mother to relinquish custody of her grandchildren. On April 1, the two children – due to pressure – were also transferred from the psychiatric hospital and no one knows where they are now.

Another reported case is that of the four children of activist and artist Wang Zang, in prison since 2020, and his wife, also detained between 2020 and 2022. Wang Zang's mother intervened to take care of the children, but the police placed under close surveillance. She even prevented him from receiving packages from friends and benefactors with food and clothing for the children. After she was released on December 16, 2022, the children returned to their mother but the threats did not end: Chuxiong police ordered the woman to stop posting on social media about her imprisoned husband or risk having her children will end up in an orphanage.

Another impressive case is that of Quanquan, son of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, released from prison in June 2020 but subjected to rigid surveillance measures that also affect the child's life. Last October he passed an interview and a written test to be admitted to a new school. The parents paid the tuition and enrolled Quanquan in fifth grade. But the boy was only able to attend one day, because the school administration had to give in to pressure from the authorities and withdrew his admission. In March, 20 police officers showed up at a middle school in Guangdong province just ten days after the boy started attending. “Once again they forced him to leave school,” the mother commented helplessly.

Another form of pressure is the refusal to grant passports to children, which prevents them from going to study abroad. Human rights lawyer Li Heping was detained between July 2015 and April 2017 and sentenced to three years in prison for “subversion of state power.” His wife Wang Qiaoling wrote extensively about the government's repeated efforts to prevent her children from receiving a proper education. In an essay, she sadly related that her son, who was 17 at the time, no longer even wanted to apply to foreign universities. “He looked at me – he says – and said: 'Mom, forget it. Even if they make me an offer, I will never be able to get a passport.'”

Finally, a special chapter deserves the children of the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, separated from their parents due to the Chinese government's campaigns to “strongly repress” local cultural and religious identity, which Beijing considers a dangerous autonomist drift. According to United Nations sources, up to a million Tibetan children are forced to attend boarding schools to assimilate into the culture of the Han majority. But there is also a significant expansion of the public boarding school system in Xinjiang, where even Younger children are separated from their parents, “who are in exile or interned.” The Chinese authorities treat these children as “orphans.”

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