WASHINGTON — The wife of missing Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng fought back tears Wednesday as she spoke of her children's pain living without their father, who disappeared in April 2010.
Geng He said her daughter of 17 is depressed and her seven-year-old son asks where his father is and speaks of needing to keep up his Chinese so he can speak with Gao.
"Mr Obama, if you still remember the pain of the void you had growing up without your dad, maybe you can help my children reunite with their dad," she pleaded, speaking through an interpreter.
Her personal appeal at a news conference here illustrated the ambivalence of exiled dissidents, hopeful that President Barack Obama will help bring change to China but still feeling the bitter sting of experience.
In vivid counterpoint to Obama's summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao, exiled human rights activists drew attention to China's record of harassment, imprisonment, torture and even death for those who step out of line.
As they spoke, Obama and Hu held a press conference at the White House that gave little indication the Chinese leader had budged on human rights.
Obama said he had been "very candid" with Hu, but the Chinese leader defended what he callled "enormous progress" in human rights.
Outside the White House, several hundred protesters lined Pennsylvania Avenue, some chanting "Hu Jintao, go home!" and "Shame on Hu Jintao."
Banners and brightly colored flags reflected a potpourri of simmering human rights conflicts -- Falungong, Tibet, Muslim Turkestan and the perennial tensions with breakaway Taiwan.
The Obama administration, which initially favored realpolitik, has gingerly moved human rights out of the backrooms of US diplomacy in recent months and promised to frankly raise US concerns with China.
Exiled human rights and pro-democracy advocates said they hoped Obama wouldn't disappoint them.
"At this time all eyes in China are focused on this summit," said Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled champion of the rights of the country's Muslim Uighur minority.
"Millions of people in China believe President Obama can make great change by speaking out on human rights issues.
"We all believe that Obama will not disappoint the hopes and dreams of millions of people suffering under Chinese rule," she added.
Ngawang Sangdrol, a Tibetan nun who was jailed at age 15 and spent 10 years in prison before being released on the eve of a 2002 US-China summit, said in a statement that international pressure made a difference in her case.
She urged Obama to ask Hu to free all prisoners held for exercising their right to free speech, allow freedom of religion and self-rule, and to peacefully resolve the future of Tibet through negotiations.
Other rights activists described a deteriorating climate for political freedoms inside China, with arrests of journalists, judicial harassment of non-governmental organizations and prolonged detention of activists who run afoul of the government.
Reporters Without Borders pressed the administration to ask Hu to free 106 journalists and bloggers, and to criticize growing censorship in China.
"China is the world's biggest prison for journalists," it said.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »