I was on a conference call with a couple of people today about planning some work for the Olympics campaign in the next few months. Some questions that came up really bother me. It started from a comment that the AI campaign materials for the Beijing Olympics do not have much attraction for the media. I responded that some prisoners-focused materials will be released soon and they might help.

A question came up about whether families of prisoners would be available for media interview. For some countries, it might be possible. But in China, most family members stay away from any involvement with the prisoners because of the consequences that come along simply for being related to a political prisoner. Take the case of Shi Tao. Since he was jailed for sending an email to a US-based website about a government order, his wife was questioned by security officials daily. She was also pressured to divorce him and she eventually did although she had not done any outspoken advocating for him. Shi Tao’s brother and uncle were harassed by the authorities. The only person who dare to speak up is his mother, Gao Qinsheng but she also experienced monitoring and harassment until she turned her attention to Yahoo because they provided to the authorities Shi Tao’s email account holder information that became part of the evidence for his conviction.

In recent years, a few wives of prisoners are much more fearless than others. Yuan Weijing, the wife of blind activist Chen Guangcheng has been consistently prevented from traveling freely inside China including trips to visit her parents and to see a dentist. It did not prevent her from being mobile. Last August, she planned a visit to the Philippines to accept an award for Chen. She made it all the way from Shandong to Beijing but the authorities caught up with her at the airport.

rconversation.blogs.comActivist Hu Jia‘s wife, Zeng Jinyan blogged about her experience when Hu was detained by the authorities and assisted him making videos of their daily lives when he was under house arrest for over 200 days in 2006. She herself is now under house arrest along with their two month old baby ever since Hu was taken away by police in late December. The officials sent the family a formal arrest notification today. AI extended last month’s Urgent Action for the couple.

When I found it hard for anyone to be ignorant about the danger of speaking up for prisoners in China, another strange question came up during the call. The question was whether any prisoners of conscience that AI is featuring in the Olympics campaign has athletic abilities. First of all, sports is a state-sponsored program in China. If you are a trouble-maker, you are out of the program. Secondly, recreational sports is not accessible to most people in China. Those who are lucky to attend a nice school might get a chance to take PE in school. Once the adult age is reached, people focus on making a living and simple survival for daily necessities. Finally, those who became political prisoners had to dedicate most of their free time to their cause.

Human rights is a hard sell to the media. For those of us who fight for the true heroes around the world, the work is not sexy. But I believe in simple story telling. When you can connect a human rights abuse to a real person, you can no longer deny the horrible things we do to each other.