On the sixth anniversary of the 709 arrests of Chinese human rights lawyers, Secretary of State Blinken issued a statement expressing support for Chinese human rights lawyers who have been suppressed for defending the rights of the underprivileged and minority communities, calling on Beijing to release imprisoned human rights lawyers and restore the work rights of lawyers who have been denied professional licenses. Blinken made it clear that the United States is always on their side. While the Secretary of State’s statement is certainly comforting to the Chinese rights community, I am afraid that it is too far away to put out a fire nearby. Tang Jitian, a Chinese rights lawyer in Beijing, has been isolated and desperate for two months: watching his daughter struggle to survive but unable to travel to Japan to care for her, and no one seems to be able to help him break through Beijing’s border control so that he can fly to his daughter’s bedside.
In a previous program, the French broadcaster reported on the repeated appeals by international lawyers’ organizations, human rights organizations, and China experts from several countries to the Chinese authorities to release Tang Jitian on the basis of the most basic principles of humanity, but the Beijing government seems to be indifferent. Tang himself has made repeated visits to the Ministry of Public Security and the petition department, but has received no response from the authorities. He also tried to force his way out of the country, but was stopped at the Fujian airport, where the authorities banned him from leaving the country on the grounds that he was a “threat to national security. How can a lawyer who has been banned from practicing law for more than a decade be a threat to national security? I wonder what the public security authorities have to say about this?
Tang Jitian’s daughter, who is studying alone in Tokyo, has been hospitalized for more than two months and is often in a coma. What is her current physical condition? We interviewed Tomoko Ako, a Japanese sinologist who has been taking care of Tang for almost two months.
FG: Ms. Ako, thank you very much for the interview! First of all, please make a short introduction!
Tomoko Ako: I am a professor of modern China at the University of Tokyo in Japan. My specialty is the study of modern Chinese society, especially the study of rural China from a sociological perspective, and I have been doing field research in mainland China for many years. I am also interested in Chinese civil society and have interviewed many public intellectuals as well as some human rights lawyers.
Fa Guang: How did you meet the daughter of lawyer Tang Jitian? How did you become the janitor of young Tang today?
Tomoko Agu: I met many human rights activists when I was doing social research in China, including lawyer Tang Yoshida, and we have kept in touch ever since. We had a few meals together after Tang Yoshida’s daughter came to Japan, and I was concerned about things like her study progress. Recently, due to the seriousness of the New Crown epidemic in Japan, I was entrusted to see Xiao Tang because Mr. Tang Yoshida had not been able to contact his daughter for several days. However, the door of her house could not be opened all the time, and after an hour, I called the police to open the door together. After that, I realized that Xiao Tang was very sick, so we called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. Xiao Tang was suffering from tuberculosis, but, unfortunately, her tuberculosis was so severe that her liver and brain were severely damaged and she could no longer breathe normally and had to be artificially ventilated to continue. Her life condition is very worrying.
FH: What did the doctor say?
Agujiko: When I went to the hospital last week, the doctor already said that Xiao Tang’s heartbeat could stop at any time, and the next evolution of the doctor could not be predicted, but it is likely to be very bad.
FH: Is Xiao Tang alone now? Her mother has arrived in Tokyo, right?
Tomoko Ago: Yes, her mother arrived in Tokyo on May 16. Because Tang’s illness is very serious, the hospital needs the family’s signature to make a decision on treatment. Although I tried very hard, I was not a family member of Xiaotang, so I had to have my parents present in person. I informed the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the first opportunity and asked them to issue a visa to Xiaotang’s parents no matter what. During the epidemic, the Japanese government normally no longer issues visas to foreign countries, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately made an exception and issued visas to both of them. Tang Yoshida already had a visa two months ago, but the Chinese government just wouldn’t release him.
RFE: You and Tang’s mother went to the Chinese Embassy in Japan this morning (July 8) to submit a petition asking the Beijing authorities to release Tang Yoshitian. Did a representative from the embassy come out for a meeting?
Tomoko Agu: Human rights are not just empty words, they are the daily life of each and every one of us.
Tomoko Agu: No, and we didn’t have an appointment beforehand, but I know very well that they wouldn’t accept an appointment if we made one. So we went straight to it. We were heavily surrounded by Japanese police in front of the embassy because they had to protect the Chinese embassy in Japan, where right-wing people often go to protest because the relationship between China and Japan is not very friendly. The police asked us a lot of questions and checked the bags we had with us, after that they accompanied us to the embassy door and rang the bell, but, we knew that the people in the embassy would not come out. So, we ended up dropping the petition in the embassy’s mailbox. We knew there would be no response from the embassy, but there were many reporters on the scene, and Japanese television stations NHK and Tokyo reported the event on their evening news programs.
FW: The Japanese media is highly concerned about the fact that Xiao Tang is seriously ill but unable to meet with his father, what is the public opinion about this?
Tomoko Aguchi: Xiao Tang got tuberculosis while studying in Japan, and everyone pitied her! I had no idea that tuberculosis would be so serious. What people find incomprehensible is why her father could not come to Japan, and her father is also a human rights lawyer who has done a lot for the disadvantaged, and the Japanese people are really puzzled why a father cannot see his daughter. In fact, we usually talk about human rights issues, this is not some empty rhetoric, it involves the daily life of ordinary people, we do not need to make it very complicated. In fact, many decisions made by the Chinese government will affect the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people. These are issues that ordinary Japanese people are very concerned about, and the media will certainly cover them.
FG: Since the Japanese media and public opinion are so concerned, besides issuing visas to Mr. and Mrs. Tang Yoshida as soon as possible, did the Japanese government negotiate directly with the Chinese Embassy or the Chinese Foreign Ministry?
Tomoko Aguchi: The Japanese government is indeed concerned about this matter, but, unlike European and American countries, the Japanese government will not appeal directly to Liu Xia, Liu Xia’s wife, and help her to go through the exit procedures, as the German government did. The Japanese government also has to consider the bilateral relationship between China and Japan. I hope the Japanese government will pay attention to these humane issues. Recently another human rights activist, Guo Feixiong’s wife, was also stopped at the airport when she was seriously ill in the United States. The Chinese government probably has this blacklist of people who are not allowed to leave the country. And not only they themselves, but their children are not even allowed to study in foreign countries, which is incomprehensible, and the Chinese government should not do this.
Many thanks to Ms. Tomoko Agu, a sinologist from the University of Tokyo in Japan, for the interview with FWU.