Dubbed as “China’s youngest prisoner of conscience,” Zhang Anni and her sister Ruli have voiced their opposition to the government’s vicious treatment of their father, who resists the communist party.
In her first interview given in English, Anni told CNA May 5 that if she could say something to the Chinese government, “(I would say) to release our father, because he didn’t do anything wrong.”
Now residing in the California home of women’s rights activist Reggie Littlejohn, the founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, Anni ,11, and her elder sister Ruli,19, arrived in the United States in September, following pleas from their father to get them out of China.
Littlejohn originally met Zhang Anni through her organization, which is dedicated to fighting gendercide, forced abortions and sexual slavery in China, during a radio interview after the Chinese government had detained her after school because of her father’s opposition of the communist party.
Anni’s father, Zhang Lin, has already served 13 years in prison on subversion charges for his political activities, and has been imprisoned again following comments he made during a demonstration last April in protest of the government for preventing Anni from attending class.
Recalling the day that she was detained, Anni said that Feb. 27 of last year “my teacher told me to go to the principal’s office” after school, so “I went to the principal’s office and I saw four men standing there.”
Explaining how the principle told her to “go with the four uncles,” who said they were friends of father, Anni noted how the men said that “Your father told us to pick you up and we’ll send you home.”
“Because they said they were friends of my father, I believed them and I went with them. But they took me to the police office, and that time I was very scared because I was afraid they would do something to me.”
Anni explained that she was made to sit in a “meeting room” for four hours, and that “in those four hours I was alone.”
“My dad was not there so they left a person to watch me. And after four hours I asked when I could go home and when I could see my dad, and they said ‘soon, soon, your dad is coming.’”
However, she said, when her father finally arrived at 10 p.m., the men told her that he was still not there, so “they lied to us. They said my dad wasn’t there, but actually my dad was there.”
Noting that when she attempted to get up and go out of the room, the man blocked her so she could not leave, Anni went on to describe how at 11 p.m. she was escorted out of the building, but instead of being set free, she was taken to another police station “until the next day at 3 p.m.”
“So (from when) I got out from school until the next day, I had been detained 24 hours.”
The girls also recounted the violent treatment of their father, who they said has been brutally beaten to the point of being in a wheelchair, and was denied medical treatment.
“We are so angry and worried about him. Because his health has problems right now, it’s very serious, and also he didn’t do anything wrong,” Ruli expressed, observing how “they beat my father very hard and they tried to put our father with…murderers, some very dangerous people, and the guards wanted the other prisoners to beat my father without reason.”
“And after torture they didn’t give my father medical treatment, they just left him alone. So my father’s body is very bad after the torment,” she continued, recalling how sometimes when she was away at college, Anni was left to care for their father, who at times could not move.
“She would cook and try to take care of my father even when she was 8 and 9.”
When asked what they would say to their father if given the chance to send him a message, Anni explained that “I would say don’t worry. Don’t worry about me because I’m very good and to take care of himself, and I hope soon you will get out of jail and come with us.”
Anni went on to describe all of the things she is learning in the U.S., observing that in eight months, she has learned to play the piano, taken swimming lessons, gone to school every day and learned “a lot of English.”
She also spoke of her favorite new foods, which include “chocolate, ice cream and dessert.”
Drawing attention to the continuous maltreatment of Zhang Lin and his family, Littlejohn told CNA May 5 that he “is an incredible hero in China” because “he was a nuclear physicist, so he’s a brilliant man and could have lived a life of luxury…and he gave up everything to fight for democracy in China.”
Observing how it is impossible to know how many others are in Zhang’s same situation, Littlejohn explained that one of the “abominable, I would say cowardly tactics of the Chinese communist party, is that if they cannot silence a dissident directly by jailing him and persecuting him, then they will persecute his family, including his children.”
Although the maltreatment of children like Anni, who was denied food, water and a blanket in her overnight detainment, is not necessarily legal in China, Littlejohn stated, “it’s a matter of the Chinese communist party doing whatever it takes to maintain their strangle-hold on power and then there’s no one to stop them.”
“If something is illegal in China it really bears little or no relationship whether or not the government is doing it.”
Calling attention to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the June 4 massacre of university students in 1989 who had gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest government corruption, the lawyer observed that today “human rights in China have deteriorated.”
“The difference between now and Tiananmen Square is that in Tiananmen Square the students were allowed to assemble. So they did assemble and they were massacred,” however under China’s new president, “today people can’t even assemble.”
Reflecting on the various challenges that have come with taking the girls into her home, the lawyer stated that despite having to make some “major adjustments” in their lives, “my husband and I are overjoyed to have Annie and Lily in our home,” and explained that her greatest hope for the girls now is that “they would be able to lead a normal life.”
“They have been in a situation where they never knew when they would be whisked away by the police, when their father would be whisked away by the police,” and “right before they came to the United States, they had police at their door five or six times a day demanding to take Anni to an orphanage.”
“So they have been through so much trauma that what my husband and I hope to provide for them is the opportunity to have a stable home, enough food, which has not always been the case in their lives, to have an education, to be able to begin to dream.”