Human rights activists jailed in mainland China and Hong Kong will not be able to see their loved ones this Valentine’s Day. Here, the partners of three detained activists write love letters instead.
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is a victim of enforced disappearance. There is no information about his whereabouts since he was taken away from his home in Yulin City, northwest China, in August 2017. A former prisoner of conscience who was previously tortured in detention, he has been prevented from communicating with his wife Geng He for seven years.
How are you doing? The chilly winters in northern China always concern me when it comes to your health. Without family by your side, how do you manage through these harsh cold days? I yearn to see you, to care for you, and to share warmth with each other.
The bitterness of our separation for 16 years makes each day a struggle, and every piece of news about you feels precious, especially considering our last communication was seven years ago.
Do you still recall? Thirty-four years of knowing and loving each other, believing in our lifelong commitment to one another. Yet fate has driven us apart, leaving us to hold onto faith and the image of a complete family in our hearts.
As the Spring Festival approaches and Valentine’s Day draws near, on such occasions, I wish you could suddenly appear before me, and our family could be reunited.
Zhisheng, despite the hardships, our family has become the strongest in the world. The children and I will bravely endure until the day you return. Please stay strong as well, no matter the challenges you face, please come back to us. We will always wait for you and love you forever.
Your wife, Geng He
Lawyer Chow Hang-tung is detained in Hong Kong over her role in organizing the city’s Tiananmen crackdown vigil, for which she faces up to 10 years in jail under the National Security Law. Her partner and fellow activist, Ye Du, is living under police surveillance in the Chinese city of Guangzhou.
I have never had the chance to spend Valentine’s Day with Hang-tung. When we first got together, I couldn’t leave the country, and by the time I could, she couldn’t enter. We never managed to be together for Valentine’s Day, so we cherish the brief moments we can share even more. When you truly love someone, every day feels like Valentine’s Day. Since the summer of 2019 until now, I’ve been unable to leave the country, and she’s now in prison, with no prospect of us meeting, let alone spending Valentine’s Day together.
In 2021, we exchanged Valentine’s Day gifts for the last time before she lost her freedom. Knowing she often strains her eyes by reading on her phone, I ordered a Kindle for her from an online store in Hong Kong to be delivered to her office. She bought me a cotton towel blanket and had it sent from Hong Kong to Guangzhou via Hong Kong Post. We both wished to spend Valentine’s Day like any other couple, enjoying the scenery together under the moonlight. However, in this era where freedom and dignity are trampled upon, we had to choose to bear the weight and move forward. Our shared love gave us the courage and strength to press on.
People always say that love must withstand tests, but when the storms come, most relationships falter. Now, she is in a prison in Hong Kong, and every time I speak out or write about her in mainland China, I am invariably summoned and questioned. Yet, the tests imposed by authoritarian power have never crushed our love. Despite the distance and obstacles, our yearning for each other never ceases. In this lifetime, we will not betray our freedom or each other.
Human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was convicted last year of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He has been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in detention, essentially for meeting with others to discuss the civil society situation and current affairs in China. Ding’s wife, Shengchun, was only informed of his current whereabouts in February 2024.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve penned these letters, unsure of when they can be delivered to you. Since your second arrest on December 26, 2019, this physical letter marks the 60th, though in truth, there have been countless others I’ve wished to write but was too preoccupied to set down. Each Sunday, after returning home from church, I feel an overwhelming urge to write to you, much like today. It’s as if I can’t help but imagine you seated beside me during the service. Whenever the pastor’s sermon moves me, I find myself silently asking, “Dear Jiaxi, do you feel the same?” Since my baptism, I’ve often wished to discuss faith with you. It’s unfortunate that we never found the time for such conversations before your arrest. Today’s sermon focused on heeding and responding to God’s call, underscoring the hardships and challenges one must endure to fulfill His mission—an inspiring message that lifted my spirits.
In the past month, I’ve forged many new friendships, predominantly with young people, some of whom are the same age as our daughter. Engaging with them has been intellectually stimulating and brings me joy. Today, we delved into a meaningful discussion on women’s rights, which broadened my perspectives significantly.
Each day, I remind myself that happiness is a vital precursor to success. Your words, “Be happy and joyful as a citizen,” still resonate with me.
To shield my family from potential harassment by national security, I’ve refrained from asking them to visit you, making letter-writing our sole means of gauging your well-being and eagerly awaiting your response. May the Lord watch over and protect you, granting you health and safety.
With all my love,
Protect human rights defenders in mainland China and Hong Kong
CALL ON THE HONG KONG AUTHORITIES TO RELEASE CHOW HANG-TUNG
Chow Hang-tung has been charged solely for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Top image of Chow Hang-tung and Ye Du © Private