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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lisa Peng hasn’t seen her father since her seventh birthday party in 2003.But she holds on to the hope she says he instilled in her. That hope makes the Shaker Heights 16-year-old optimistic that her father and other prisoners of conscience in China will find justice and freedom. And she is working hard to make that happen.
In addition to heading Laurel School’s student government, winning debate competitions and playing piano, Lisa is lobbying President Barack Obama to seek her father’s release.
This week, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss her father’s case with members of Congress and participate in a news conference organized by 30 human rights groups where she urged Obama to seek the release of 16 prominent political prisoners, including her father, when Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“I feel nothing but hopeful at this point,” said Lisa, who asked The Plain Dealer to publish a column that describes how her father, Peng Ming, now 56, was captured in Burma by Chinese agents and sent to a series of prisons where he was beaten by guards and denied medical treatment for a heart attack and kidney stones.
“My father is very hopeful despite almost a decade without medical care,” said Lisa, who communicates with him in Xian Ning Prison through letters relayed by an uncle in China.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Avon Democrat who chairs the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, echoed Lisa Peng’s calls for her father’s release in a June 7 letter to Obama. He noted that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared Peng’s imprisonment to be “in violation of his internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression and association.”
“Peng Ming’s imprisonment in China is a travesty of justice,” Brown wrote. “Mr. Peng is a peaceful advocate for the environment, human rights and democracy.”
The White House press office did not respond to The Plain Dealer’s request for comment on Peng’s case. Senior White House officials have previously told the media that Obama’s Friday and Saturday discussions with Xi Jinping would include human rights issues as well as economic and military security matters.
Lisa said a few months after she last saw her father, he visited Thailand to set up a “safe haven” for persecuted Chinese dissidents like himself. Instead, he was kidnapped at gunpoint by eight Chinese secret police officers and sentenced to life in prison on trumped up charges.
Lisa, her older brother and parents fled China when she was four by climbing through the mountains of Vietnam to reach Thailand, where they were granted refugee status and allowed to emigrate to the United States.
Her father, who had survived the tanks of Tiananmen Square, had previously spent 18 months in jail after he started a pro-democracy environmental organization called China Development Union, which the government shut down.
Another reason the Pengs fled China was to secure official recognition of Lisa’s existence. Because Lisa was a second child in a country that adopted a forced abortion policy to ensure that couples only had one child, she says the Chinese government refused to issue her a Resident Identity Card, citizenship, a passport, or any other form of official state recognition.
“In other words, as an official nonentity, I would have been denied an education, employment and the right to travel in and out of China,” Lisa said.
After initially living in California, her parents divorced, and Lisa moved to Cleveland with her mother and brother because of its academic and musical education system. She was recently selected as principal keyboardist for the Cleveland Youth Orchestra, and her 19-year-old brother, Andy, is studying the violin at Indiana University. Her mother, Ying Nie, works as a translator.
Other Chinese political prisoners whose cases are being highlighted by the human rights group coalition include jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, attorney Gao Zhisheng, who was persecuted for defending unpopular causes, and religious prisoners.
Bob Fu, who heads a Texas-based group called ChinaAid that champions the rights of Chinese dissidents, described the 16 highlighted cases as “the tip of the iceberg.”
“There are thousands of prisoners of conscience in China,” said Fu, who recently delivered a speech at Laurel School that was arranged by Lisa. “This is a historic opportunity for our democratically elected president to reflect our values in the United States.”
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