Calgary woman gets a taste of Chinese justice…
By Gillian Steward firstname.lastname@example.org/403-243-2265
Attn: Andrew Phillips/Editorial Page Editor/Toronto Star.
Dec. 18 /2011
Karen Patterson remembers every detail of the day her husband was released from a Chinese jail after a severe beating, two trials, and almost a year in custody.
Patterson, who has since returned to Calgary, had started fighting for Wu Yuren’s release in June of 2010 when she discovered that he was being held in a cell at a detention centre in Beijing.
His crime? Simply showing up at the police station with a friend who was having a dispute with his landlord. But the real crime, as the far as the police were concerned, was more likely the fact that Wu was an outspoken artist and political activist.
That doesn’t go over well in China these days.
Patterson had lived and worked in China for almost 15 years; she and Wu had a six-year-old daughter. So she knew China well enough to figure out that she had to use her advantage as a Canadian citizen to challenge the system and fight hard for his release.
“Chinese women are silenced much more easily, their families are threatened. So it is harder for them to fight back if their husbands are imprisoned for speaking out,” she said during an interview.
As a result of her efforts, Wu’s incarceration became somewhat of an international cause célèbre. At one point during his trial 150 people gathered outside the courtroom to sing and chant. Canadian and international news media picked up the story. Amnesty International started a letter writing campaign on Wu’s behalf.
But almost a year later, after two trials but no conviction, Wu was still in custody. Patterson thought he might have already been sent to prison where he could remain for years.
And then on April 3rd of this year Wu called her on her cell phone and said he was being released.
She was shocked.
He told her the police were going to drop him off at a location just outside Beijing and they wanted her to agree to pick him up.
She arrived at the designated spot. A large black car with tinted windows was waiting. A man in a bullet proof vest stepped out of the car. And then Wu stepped out.
“Everyone was ‘China nice’ to each other, very polite. And then they left,” Patterson said. “I later found out that they were the secret police.”
Wu told her he had been taken from his cell at midnight and driven to a hotel/spa outside Beijing that the police use to temporarily hold new detainees or those being released. The next day they took him out to get new shoes, a suit, and a haircut.
But while Wu was not in a cell anymore, he was not free. He was given a special cell phone with which the police could track his every movement, his passport was taken away, and he was told he could not talk to the news media. And yet, he had never been convicted of any wrong doing.
Even before Wu was released, Patterson had decided it was time for her to leave China. She and Wu were already separated when he was incarcerated. But because she decided to fight for his release she had problems renewing her visa, she had to close her businesses, and she was hassled and harassed by the police at every opportunity.
Patterson also found out that her landlady had been pressured by the police to evict her from her apartment. Luckily, the woman stood her ground so Patterson and her daughter wouldn’t suddenly find themselves on the street.
“That was incredibly brave of her,” said Patterson. “I will always be grateful.”
Patterson and Wu agreed that it would be best for her and young Hannah to come back to Calgary. They arrived in June but remain in touch with Wu through email and Skype.
And although Patterson still worries about what will eventually happen to Wu and all those other people in China who are persecuted day after day, she’s glad to be spending this Christmas in Canada.