HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) — The pregnant wife of a prominent Chinese dissident has arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area with their 4-year-old son to live as refugees for at least a year, an activist said Wednesday.
Liu Xiaodong, 40, the wife of Zhao Changqing, arrived with the boy Tuesday from Bangkok. She was escorted by Yang Jianli, president of Initiatives for China/Citizen Power for China, a grassroots movement dedicated to a peaceful transition to democracy.
Yang said Liu will live with supporters in suburban Hayward and take care of her children. Her baby is due Aug. 23.
"My husband is a political activist and fights for freedom and democracy, which puts him in the position of being the enemy of a totalitarian state," Liu said. "We have seen that the government is likely to use the family as a hostage against activists like my husband. That's why we left and will be safe here."
The 47-year-old Zhao has been a leading defender of human rights and democracy in China since the 1989 Tiananmen Students Movement. As a former student leader and a prominent political "prisoner of conscience," he has been imprisoned five times in 27 years.
Liu said her husband was released a week ago and is living in China under heavy surveillance.
She said she spoke to him while traveling and he is doing fine physically but having difficulty finding a permanent home. She said he will stay in China to continue his work.
In 2005, Zhao refused to participate in a flag-raising ceremony or sing the national anthem. He was put into solitary confinement for more than a month. He was later returned to solitary confinement for refusing to take part in military drills and for receiving Falun Gong members, according to published reports.
Zhao was part of a loose network of grassroots activists known as the New Citizens Movement who in 2013 were targeted by Chinese authorities as part of a broad crackdown on dissent.
The movement was known in China's beleaguered community of activists for staging small protests to call for education equality or the disclosure of public officials' assets to curb corruption.
Chinese authorities found Zhao and three other activists guilty of "gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public" for planning street protests and sentenced Zhao in April 2014 to two years and six months' imprisonment.
His wife and son left China in May for Bangkok. She says she no longer felt safe in Thailand.
"I knew the stories. That's why I was anxious. I was afraid they'd kidnap me and take me back like they had done to other people," Liu said.
Bender reported from San Francisco.
This story has been corrected to use Liu and Zhao on second reference, and to correct a name to Yang Jianli.