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Gao Zhan Fears For Family Members in China - 2001-08-06

A Chinese scholar who returned to the United States last month after being detained in Beijing for five and a half months says she fears reprisals on family members still living in China.

Gao Zhan says she is still physically weak from her ordeal. She was released last month after Chinese officials convicted her of spying for Taiwan and sentenced her to ten years in prison.

Gao Zhan denies the spying allegations. The Chinese freed her on medical grounds after diplomatic intervention by the Bush administration.

In an interview with VOA Monday, Gao Zhan said the worst part of her ordeal was her separation from her husband and five-year-old son. "That was both emotional and psychological torture for me, even though I did not suffer any physical torture in my detention," she said.

Gao Zhan said it is likely she will become more active on human rights concerns involving China, saying she feels a need to respond to the call of her conscience and the call of other detainees in China.

But she also worries about family members still living in China. "Well, what I am afraid of is that they will do something to my family back there, my parents, my parents in law, my sister, my brother and my sisters in law who are still living there," she said. "My feelings of the Chinese government? I think they have got a lesson to learn. I mean, next time they set out to arrest someone else, they should give it a second thought."

As for Chinese allegations that she was spying for Taiwan, Gao Zhan said Chinese officials became suspicious when they searched her belongings as she prepared to leave Beijing on February 11. "Well, the basis of the allegation is the material that I collected for my own research and they told me they were state secrets," she said. "But actually they were not. I was vehemently defending myself at the trial, so did my lawyers. And it is obvious to the Chinese people that it is very arbitrary for the Chinese government to say, you know, which kind of materials are and are not state secrets."

Gao Zhan said she expects to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen soon, once immigration officials deal with some bureaucratic delays. She said she is looking forward to becoming an American citizen. "I am very much...," she said. "It is very important to my life because throughout this Gao Zhan incident I felt that the American government has done a lot for me, you know, who was not even their citizen, who was only a permanent resident. That is why I felt like I need to seek a kind of protection. This is very sad for me to say so. But I have to say this is my feeling."

Gao Zhan said the Immigration and Naturalization Service is reviewing the espionage verdict against her but expects the process to be completed soon.

As for the future of U.S. relations with China, Gao Zhan said she generally agrees with a policy of engagement with China. But she also said China must be made to comply with international standards of human rights. "I think to the benefits of both the American and Chinese people, a good relationship between China and America is good," Gao Zhan said. "But through my incident, I feel like what I need to do is to turn vice into virtue."

Gao Zhan says she has had nightmares about her detention in China every night since she has returned to the United States.

For the moment though she is content to spend time with her husband and son. "I am extremely happy to be able to be with my husband and with my son," she said. "And I am just happy, plain happy with them."