Freedom Like a Holiday, Dissident Says
Enjoying his first tastes of Western freedom with a holiday visit here, prominent Chinese dissident Xu Wenli said Monday that his release last week from prison felt like a holiday celebration of his own.
“It’s like the Big Apple dropping in my heart,” he said in Times Square, a day before the traditional Big Apple ball was set to drop tonight.
China freed Xu, 59, on Dec. 24, when he left a Beijing prison boarded a flight to the U.S. with his wife, He Xintong, 55.
He had been jailed since 1998 for helping to organize an opposition party. He had earlier spent 12 years in prison on a 1982 conviction for activities stemming from participation in the 1979 Democracy Wall movement.
“In jail, because I was a dissident, a political prisoner, I was very isolated. I was in a jail within a jail,” Xu said, adding that he was observed constantly by eight cameras in his cell.
Now missing several teeth and suffering from Hepatitis B, Xu is nonetheless quick to smile and happy to be reunited with his wife and daughter, Xu Jin, 30, a teacher in Providence, R.I., where he plans to live. With his daughter acting as interpreter, Xu said one of the first clues of his release came from guards who took his photo Dec. 17.
A week later, they ordered him to pack his books, shower and change into new clothes.
“They never told me where I was going or that I was released,” he said. “I got on the plane, and my wife was there and I was very happy to see her, and about a half minute later we took off.”
Xu said he wanted to send a message to those left behind: “I would like to say to my friends who are fighting for Chinese democracy and still in jail to remember that we, the ones on the outside, in Western society, will try our best to help and support their families and their release.”