WASHINGTON, D.C.: Family members of prisoners asked President Barack Obama on Thursday (Friday in Manila) to urge China’s new leader to free 16 inmates, saying human
rights needed to be a priority at their tone-setting summit.
President Xi Jinping will hold his first talks on Friday with Obama since taking office. Both sides say that the meeting at a secluded resort in the California desert is aimed at building chemistry between the two leaders.
“This summit is not only about personal friendship building. It’s a summit between the presidents of two countries and they should have a purpose to build a more just society,” said Chen Guangcheng, the blind self-taught lawyer who dramatically escaped house arrest for the US embassy in Beijing last year.
“President Obama should stop the trade-centered diplomacy and instead make it a human rights-centered diplomacy,” Chen, who studies in New York, told a news conference in Washington by video link.
Advocacy groups plan to roll out wristbands and other mementos for the “China 16” initiative in hopes of building pressure to free the prisoners, who together have been sentenced to four life terms plus 165 years.
The 16 prisoners include Chen’s nephew Chen Kegui, Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer who has allegedly faced severe physical abuse after defending unpopular causes, and Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Nobel Peace laureate who wrote a bold manifesto for reform.