“The official charges against my father are espionage and terrorism,” says Wang. “Specifically the Chinese government says that he was part of a plot to blow up the Chinese embassy in Thailand and that he was a spy for Taiwan. Unofficially it’s probably just 25 years of actions against the government.”
Wang Bingzhang, a Beijing native, protested Chinese occupation in Tibet and suppression of free speech and religious freedom in his home country, and spent decades as a dedicated advocate of democracy, and human rights. He helped found the Chinese overseas democracy movement after leaving China to study at McGill University in Montreal in 1979.
In 2002 he was meeting with labor activists in Vietnam near the Chinese border when he disappeared. He reappeared in a Buddhist Temple in China, where he was taken into custody by Chinese authorities.
“There was a period of about six months when he was incommunicado and we had no idea where he was,” Wang says. “Then he called us from prison. According to the Chinese government, he was kidnapped from Vietnam and taken into China. He was then purportedly rescued by Chinese state police. However, we never received ransom demands. The suspicion, of course, is that the government sent people to get him.”
Since then, the increasingly frail Dr. Wang has had three strokes and is starting to suffer from mental illness brought on by years spent in solitary confinement, according to his family. He is allowed one visit every month.
“His siblings have put a lot of money into this cause, made a lot of financial sacrifices, sold houses, lived sparingly,” Wang says. “Just the logistics of going to see him every month are very expensive. It costs thousands of dollars to make the trip.
“For us children, I think we’ve each tried to find our own way of doing what we think is right, and there’s no question that the right thing is to try to get him out. In 2005 I visited him for the second time. My little sister knew him even less than I did, but now she’s in D.C., interning at a human rights organization focusing on his case.”
Wang, who attended his father’s alma mater, McGill University, before coming to Duke Law School, says his father’s imprisonment sharpened his interest in the law. “I was already on the track to study law to some degree, but this has certainly solidified it and given me focus. It certainly made want to focus on Asia, East Asia specifically, and China more specifically.”
His father’s treatment violated internationally recognized concepts of due process, Times Wang says. “There was a trial. It lasted one day. He did not have an opportunity to cross examine or to present his own evidence. And then he made an appeal, which didn’t go anywhere.”
Because of the severity of his father’s medical conditions, Wang says his family is hopeful that their recent request for a medical parole may be granted. “Traditionally, that has been the Chinese government’s method of pardoning politically sensitive prisoners. There is basis for this in my father’s case, because of his strokes and also some severe allergic reactions he has suffered in prison.”
A practiced writer who co-wrote a newly-released independent film, “Turbid,” Wang has put his skill to use in countless pleas to the Chinese government, his family’s public statements and speeches on his father’s imprisonment, and on a related web site, wangbingzhang.com. He helped his sister, Ti-Anna Wang, write an op ed condemning their father’s treatment by the Chinese government; it was published in the Washington Post Jan. 11.
U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chris Smith and Frank Wolf called for Dr. Wang’s release during a press conference Dec. 10. “Dr. Wang’s ordeal bears the markings of so many Chinese dissidents who have been robbed of their freedom and endured severe hardship at the hands of their captors,” said Wolf (R-Va.) during the press conference.
For his part, Times Wang remains hopeful that increased public scrutiny of his father’s imprisonment will lead to his eventual release.