AFP: Obama urged to press China to free 16 prisoners

By Shaun Tandon (AFP) – 19 hours ago

Chen Guangcheng, Chinese human rights activist,
speaks during an interview with AFP April 9, 2013
in Washington, DC (AFP/File, Karen Bleier)

WASHINGTON — Family members of prisoners on Thursday asked President Barack Obama to urge China’s new leader to free 16 inmates, saying human rights needed to be a priority at their tone-setting summit.

President Xi Jinping will on Friday hold his first talks with Obama since taking office. Both sides say that the meeting at a secluded resort in the California desert is aimed at building chemistry between the two leaders.

“This summit is not only about personal friendship building. It’s a summit between the presidents of two countries and they should have a purpose to build a more just society,” said Chen Guangcheng, the blind self-taught lawyer who dramatically escaped house arrest for the US embassy in Beijing last year.

“President Obama should stop the trade-centered diplomacy and instead make it a human rights-centered diplomacy,” Chen, who studies in New York, told a news conference in Washington by video link.

While activists routinely call on the United States to prioritize human rights, advocacy groups are trying a more concerted effort by drawing up a list of 16 prisoners and urging Obama to press for their freedom.

Advocacy groups plan to roll out wristbands and other mementos for the “China 16” initiative in hopes of building pressure to free the prisoners, who together have been sentenced to four life terms plus 165 years.

The 16 prisoners include Chen’s nephew Chen Kegui, who was imprisoned and allegedly beaten in what activists say was retaliation by authorities in eastern Shandong province who felt humiliated by his uncle’s flight.

Other prominent names on the list include Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer who has allegedly faced severe
physical abuse after defending unpopular causes, and Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Nobel Peace laureate who wrote a bold manifesto for reform.

Another prisoner, Peng Ming, was a reform-minded former official living in exile whose family said he was kidnapped in 2004 in Thailand when he tried to set up a haven for Chinese defectors and was targeted by the secret police.

His daughter Lisa Peng, a poised 16-year-old who lives in the United States, said that her father has remained strong despite suffering heart attacks and kidney stones in prison without medical treatment.

“It is this hope that my father has instilled in me, despite the thousands of miles that have separated him from nearly a decade of my life — a decade of childhood memories, emotional growth, intellectual maturity,” she said.

“I continue to have great hope that all of us, and especially our president, will reaffirm the universal and fundamental values of our country — freedom, democracy and justice,” she said.

Danielle Wang tearfully said she has not spoken to her father, Wang Zhiwen, since 1999. A railway engineer, Wang was taken away at night in 1999 when China banned the Falungong spiritual movement, she said.

“At my wedding, we placed a single rose on his chair to symbolize his presence and celebrate his place in my life. I will continue to keep that rose until the day we meet again,” she said.

Other prisoners on the list include the dissidents or reformists Guo Quan, Liu Xianbin, Wang Bingzhang, Yang Tianshui, Zhu Yufu and Li Chang.

The list also features two Tibetan prisoners, the monk Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Tsering; two members of the Uighur minority, Gulmira Imin and Alimujiang Yimiti, and the underground church leader Yang Rongli.

The United States routinely raises human rights with China but many experts believe the top agenda item for the summit is likely to be China’s alleged cyber-hacking of the United States.

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