Sisters Zhang Anni, 10, and Zhang Ruli, 19, arrived in the United States a few months back after escaping an oppressive government in China, and since then have been visiting family and friends, focusing on learning English and taking up pastimes such as piano lessons.
But they also have another agenda. They are in the middle of a battleground that most people never experience: fighting the power of the Chinese government, which now is putting their father on trial over his pro-democracy advocacy.
The sisters now are staying at the home of Reggie Littlejohn, founder of Womens Rights Without Frontiers, and her husband, Robert.
Reggie Littlejohn said the girls are incredible personalities and it is her delight “to be able to help the family of Zhang Lin” in this way.
“My husband and I are very proud of Anni,” she said. “She is a smart and determined girl. In her first three months in the United States, Anni has been attending school, learning English quickly, making strides in her piano lessons and has learned to swim. She also has a quick sense of humor and a magnetic personality. She will be a leader one day. We are just getting to know Ruli, and are already impressed with her intelligence, sensitivity and insight. We have no doubt that she will be a force for good in the world.”
The sisters are not, however, focusing on their own safety and comfort. They have released a statement on Radio Free Asia and other web locations challenging the presidents of the United States and China to resolve their father’s case and give him his freedom.
Zhang Lin, according to Amnesty International, is a veteran activist and faces up to five years in prison for his “peaceful activism defending his daughter’s right to education.”
The trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Amnesty International reported that in February, police in Hefei, capital of the eastern Anhui province, took Zhang Anni from school and detained her.
The episode where Zhang Anni, at the age of 10, was whisked away and grilled by police, while being deprived of food and water for 20 hours, gave her the unwanted title as “China’s youngest political prisoner.”
“The authorities continued to refuse to allow her to return to school, prompting over 30 activists to gather in Hefei in protest in April. Zhang Lin then took his daughter to their hometown of Bengbu, where they were held under house arrest,” the group said.
Now her father is on trial for trying to intervene, and his daughters are taking their arguments to the highest officials, releasing their open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, the U.S. Congress and others.
They write that their father “is accused of ‘gathering a mob to disturb public order.’ This accusation, however, is completely groundless. We strongly demand that the Chinese government release our father unconditionally, as soon as possible.!”
“We call on and urge United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. President Barack Obama, President Xi Jinping and other heads of state, parliaments, and human rights organizations to pay attention to this blatant human rights abuse. Your attention could cause our father to be released!”
They explain that after Anni was detained by “four male strangers,” their father demanded justice.
However, that’s not what they got.
Instead, he and other relatives, including uncles Yao Cheng, Li Huaping and Zhou Weilin, all were detained.
“We are living a free life in Reggie’s home in the United States, but our father and our uncles still cannot see the light of the day from their Chinese prison,” they write.
The sisters explain their father’s previous jail terms all have been for his decision to follow “the path of democracy.”
“Because of the long-term imprisonment and the abuses he had in prison, our father has suffered many diseases, from which he has not been cured. Because of this adherence to the path of democracy, our father dedicated almost his entire life, but finally he still got mired in imprisonment, and his children have been forced out of their home country,” they said.
“Therefore, we make our appeal: We ask people from all over the world to pay attention to Zhang Lin, Yao Cheng, Zhou Weilin, Li Huaping and Chai Baowen, and many other imprisoned Chinese political prisoners, and urge the Chinese government to unconditionally release them as soon as possible!
“Finally, as two girls in exile in a foreign land, for our father and uncles in prison, we cry out to you again: Please focus on them! Please use your influence, because your attention can make them free!”
Littlejohn, back in April, said in an online posting that the case highlights the “bold contempt for the Chinese Communist Party’s brutal persecution of the children of dissidents.”
She said at the time that the decision by the state of China to arrest and interrogate young children amounts to “state-sponsored child abuse.”
China Aid Association, which previously publicized the “persecution of the Zhang family” through an online petition, said since his Aug. 22 arrest, Zhang has been held in Bengbu.
Amnesty International lists online the addresses of officials to whom the public can send their concerns.
The group explains how the 50-year-old veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Anhui is suspected of being involved in the “New Citizens’ Movement,” which is described as a peaceful cultural, social and political campaign.
Amnesty explains the charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” applies to people who gathered to disturb order at railway stations or bus terminals, wharves, civil airports, marketplaces, parks, theaters, cinemas, exhibition halls and other locations.
“They both have huge potential,” she said.
Littlejohn’s organization, while concerned about all human rights issues in Chino, focuses primarily on the battle against that nation’s one-child policy. She recently was in Hong Kong for the premier of the new project tellingly titled, “It’s a Girl.”
A campaign accompanying the movie offers viewers an opportunity to help save baby girls.
Because only male offspring carry on the family name, millions of baby girls are aborted or killed after they are born in China and other countries.
“I killed eight girl children,” said one woman in the documentary.
The movie, which premiered in Hong Kong, represents growing opposition around the world to the forced abortions.
The “It’s a Girl” project is supported by Amnesty International.
Littlejohn’s remarks at the film opening were broadcast in China. She has testified on the issue before Congress, the European Parliament, the British Parliament, United Nations and the Vatican.
See Women’s Rights Without Frontiers explain “gendercide”:
Littlejohn said that because of gendercide, an estimated 37 million Chinese men will never marry "because their future wives were terminated before they were born."
"This gender imbalance is a powerful, driving force behind trafficking in women and sexual slavery, not only in China, but in neighboring nations as well," Littlejohn said.
"For most of us, hearing 'it's a girl' is cause for enormous joy, happiness and celebration. But in many countries, this announcement is a death sentence," she wrote.
"This should not be a pro-choice or a pro-life issue. This is a human rights issue. Gendercide is violence against women and girls. No one supports the systematic elimination of females," the report said.