Written by by Staff Writer, CNN • Updated 23rd August 2019
He may have been the bargaining chip in US-China trade negotiations that drove both countries to the brink of a global trade war, but it is good to see this longtime U.S. citizen now coming home.
The 69-year-old Hu Shuli, a Chinese dissident in the United States, flew to Los Angeles late Friday and was reunited with her family early Saturday, according to her current home — the Center for International Policy in New York.
A Chinese Communist Party-affiliated media executive, she was first held incommunicado in China in 2014 and later subjected to an extended house arrest in her California home, during which she received threats from authorities. She has not been charged with any crime, and it is unclear whether she will face charges.
Hu returned to China from the United States on Tuesday, August 7, on a private flight. She is now attempting to regain custody of her daughter, born in Taiwan.
Authorities in China took Hu into custody in May 2014 during a visit to a hospital to help her recover from pneumonia. Hu’s relatives suspected foul play from the beginning and thought her imprisonment was related to her dissident past as a journalist covering corruption cases.
As China’s burgeoning news business grew in influence during her time in prison, many feared Hu was being silenced for writing critically about the government.
Although jailed twice before, it’s the first time that the Chinese government has detained someone on “patriotic” grounds, and Xi Jinping, his mentor, has decried any form of subversion.
In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has maintained that Hu was being held on suspicion of drug possession. Another incident during her short time in solitary confinement would apparently have been too much for the government to handle.
In December 2017, Chinese authorities released Hu on medical parole — an acknowledgement of a “medical emergency” she reportedly suffered from since she left prison, the New York Times reported. She was not allowed to see her family until a year after her release.
What began as a situation where her family could never see her properly deteriorated into a dangerous legal battle for her to regain custody of her daughter, Mira Chang, who she had given up for adoption in Taiwan in 1987.
Wang Zhao, China’s minister of human rights, was reportedly ordered to transfer custody of Hu after she brought a human rights group to arbitration in New York.
“If the Chinese government had respected our core values and negotiated in good faith, Ms. Hu Shuli would be free to return and resume her respected profession,” Peter Dahlin, executive director of Human Rights in China, wrote in a letter to reporters in 2017.
When she was released, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in China denounced the Chinese government for “gross human rights violations.”
Weeks later, Hu was forced to make public public statements about the alleged miscarriages of justice, according to Amnesty International. She urged the UN and Chinese authorities to stop questioning her and letting her family gather at her home in Los Angeles.
“I am a mother who raises my child. I have an important role to play in supporting my daughter,” she said, according to Amnesty.
A few weeks after her release from prison, China deported her to the United States from Thailand. The Thai authorities failed to properly process her exit visa, the Thai foreign ministry said, and she was deported without valid proof of identity.
As negotiations between the two countries went on for four months without an outcome, Hu became the focus of a civil rights group’s legal case that sought her release.
The petition from Amnesty International, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Freedom Now said there was evidence of violations of rights for “detainees of conscience under political persecution.” In October 2017, the United States government formally asked China to release Hu.