Weeks of agony for wife who could only wait and hope
When Jiang Tianyong 'disappeared' in February, his wife, Jin Bianling, thought he might return in a day or two like he had previously. When that did not happen, she began to inquire at two local police stations, but she was given the runaround and then directed to the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, which claimed it was impossible to locate the officer who led the team that confiscated Jiang's computers and other belongings.
Jiang's national security minder also claimed he knew nothing. 'He disappeared? We don't know what happened,' the minder told her. 'Do you want to take me to the police station and inquire about this? Jiang knows a lot of people. Perhaps he has been used by some bad people?'
But Jin didn't go, worried that it was a trap to take her away too.
Day after day, as Jiang failed to return, Jin went from one police department to another, counting the days and calling attention to Jiang's disappearance on Twitter, while nervously avoiding contact with national security officers and police, outside of trips to the stations.
'One night I saw my [nine-year-old] daughter crying, saying that she feared that I would be gone too,' Jin said. 'I couldn't let that happen. I couldn't leave my daughter to be on her own; and if I got taken in too, there would be no one to help Jiang.'
She tried to be strong, but at night she often cried alone, and then became angry at Jiang.
'I was angry about how he was always helping others advocate their rights, but when he was in trouble, there was no one to help him.'
Jin tried to find lawyers to help Jiang, but many had disappeared themselves, or they were threatened not to get involved.
She thought hard about the different scenarios: what should she do if Jiang was in jail, what should she do if Jiang disappeared for a prolonged period, like Gao Zhisheng, and how was she going to support Jiang's parents, herself and their daughter?
But deep down she still believed that Jiang would eventually be let out. 'He has not offered bribes, nor has he received bribes. He has not broken the law.'
Finally, after two months, Jiang came home.
'For a while after he was released, he was no longer surfing the internet, and he even got up in the morning to go to the markets with me,' Jin said, also recalling how, in the past, on sensitive days, or when Beijing hosted important conferences or visits from foreign leaders, Jiang was not even allowed to take their daughter to school.
As Jiang resumed his rights activism, the stress and Jin's dilemma as a wife and mother also returned. 'Even now, the national security officer who interrogated him and beat him is still meeting him every week. And every time they meet I get so worried.
'But he's very strong-minded, and I know I can't change him ... All I can do is remind him to stay safe, and to remind myself to accept him as he is.'
She also worries about the impact on their daughter, who is old enough to understand that police took her father away but that her father had not done anything wrong.
'Since childhood we are taught that police are the good guys,' Jin said. 'But my daughter is now scared when she sees them.'