Chinese activist Guo Feixiong lost contact with the outside world again on Dec. 5 after he was banned from leaving China to visit his wife Zhang Qing in the U.S., who is under palliative care for metastatic bowel cancer. Sources say before Guo lost touch with the outside world, he sent a four-word text to a friend, saying “I’ve been caught.”
According to exiled Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, Guo’s wife had bowel surgery in January but her health conditions continued to deteriorate in recent days after the cancer cells have reportedly transferred to other organs. Due to a large tumor in her colon, which blocked her intestinal tract, Zhang Qing can only rely on fluids to obtain some nutrition.
“Since the cancer cells have spread to her other organs, her health condition is very bad,” said Chen. “She can hardly have good sleeping quality and it is very damaging to her body. She is now receiving chemotherapy so she is also having a serious hair loss situation. She’s lost a lot of weight.”
On Nov. 29, Zhang issued a public statement through ChinaAid, an organization that focuses on promoting rule of law and human rights in China, urging the Chinese government to allow Guo to go to the US and be with her. “My life is coming to the end and I am desperate,” she wrote. “When can I see my husband? Yang Maodong (aka Guo Feixiong), please come over quickly.”
Zhang mentioned that she experienced her second bowel obstruction last month and another intestinal cancer mass has grown where she had surgery last time. “The cancer cells are spreading all over my body, and I am vomiting and bloating forever,” she wrote.
“The abdominal pain was so bad that I could only walk bent over and the pain all over my body made it almost impossible to sleep. I often had trouble catching my breath and felt like I was nearing the end of my rope,” she added.
Activists and scholars called on Beijing to release Guo
On the same day that Guo was arrested, a group of activists and scholars who focus on human rights and rule of law in China issued a joint statement, urging the Chinese government to release Guo and let him go to the US to take care of his wife.
“We are very concerned about the difficult situation that Chinese citizen Yang Maodong (a.k.a Guo Feixiong) and Zhang Qing are facing,” they wrote in the statement. “Zhang’s health conditions continue to worsen and she could have life-threatening danger at any moment.”
They emphasized that as a Chinese citizen, Guo’s freedom of movement and freedom to travel should be protected by the Chinese law, and they criticized the way that some Chinese government agencies have treated Guo as “violating the Chinese law” and the basic humanitarian spirit.
“We urge the Chinese authorities to respect the law and basic humanity and release Guo Feixiong immediately, allowing him to leave for the US to take care of his wife,” they wrote.
Several prominent figures signed the statement, including Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu, Wang QuanZhang, Bao Longjun, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, June Fourth student leader Zhou Fengsuo, Wang Dan, and Fang Zheng.
Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao, who also signed the statement, says the way that the Chinese government has banned Guo from leaving China reflects the cruel and random nature of the way they treat dissidents in China.
“In China, even if there is no exit ban, the government could still refuse to let family members of detained dissidents meet them even if they are terminally ill,” said Teng Biao.
“Just like Huang Qi’s mother who is in her 80s, she wants to see him before she dies, but the authorities do not allow it. This situation also shows that the Chinese government is very inhumane, and everything is done out of political considerations, without any consideration for human dignity and basic humanity.”
Teng Biao believes that one of the reasons why the Chinese government refuses to allow specific dissidents to leave the country is that it is harder to control them if they are overseas, but if they are in China, the Chinese government can always warn them or arrest and sentence them.
Another consideration for the Chinese government is that dissidents like Guo Feixiong, who are involved in political opposition movements, have been sentenced several times in China. “In the eyes of the Communist Party, they are political enemies, and the Chinese government does not want to make life easy for these people,” he said.
“The most difficult time since 1989”
Citing the experience of Guo Feixiong and detained Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, Chinese human rights Chen GuangCheng said the Chinese government has been persecuting their family members since 16 years ago.
“Gao has been missing for more than four years and there is still no news of him,” he said. “Before his disappearance, he was persecuted and tortured by the Chinese Communist Party. Guo Feixiong was also sentenced again shortly after his release.”
In January, after being banned from leaving China at the Shanghai airport, Guo attempted an indefinite hunger strike, but a few days later, several dissidents tweeted that they could not contact Guo and feared he had lost contact with the outside world.
Before his lost contact with the outside world, Guo unsuccessfully appealed to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and other senior government officials for an urgent intervention with local authorities to allow him to travel to the United States.
Teng Biao believes that joint statements issued by the international community can hardly have an immediate effect on China because the Chinese government ignores most of them.
“Although there are some examples of the Chinese government releasing political prisoners or human rights activists early under international pressure, such cases are not common,” he said.
Teng said that since Xi Jinping came to power, the crackdown on dissidents has become increasingly brutal and intense. “From the ‘709 mass arrest’ and the crackdown on Uyghurs, many dissidents have been arrested and sentenced to prison,” he said. “Dissidents in China are facing the most severe period since 1989.”
Guo Feixiong, whose real name is Yang Maodong, is a well-known Chinese human rights activist and independent writer. In 2013, Guo was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison for his call for press freedom and political democracy, and his organization and coordination of street signs in eight Chinese cities demanding that Chinese officials disclose their assets. He was released in August 2019 upon completion of his sentence.
This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.