In China, she enjoyed the privileges that came from being married to a high-ranking member of the ruling elite. Her husband was a top security official in the security apparatus who keeps the Communist Party in power, so trust that China sent him to France to take on a prestigious role in Interpol.
But Meng Hongwei, the former Interpol president, has now disappeared into China’s extensive penal system, purged in an astonishing fall from grace. And his wife is alone with their twin boys in France, a political refugee under French police protection around the clock, after what she suspects was an attempt by Chinese agents to kidnap and extradite them to an uncertain fate.
From being an insider, Grace Meng has become an outsider who looks in – and says she’s horrified by what she sees.
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So much so that she is now relinquishing her anonymity, potentially exposing herself and her family to further risk, to speak out against China’s authoritarian government, which her husband – a deputy public security minister – served before disappearing in 2018. He was later prosecuted and imprisoned.
“The Monster” is how Meng now talks about the government he worked for. “Because they eat their children.”
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Meng chose to show her face for the first time, agreeing to be filmed and photographed without the dark lighting and camera angles from behind that she previously insisted so she could speak openly and in unprecedented details about her husband, herself and the disaster that tore them apart.
“I have the responsibility to show my face, to tell the world what happened,” she told the AP. “Over the last three years, I learned – just like we know how to live with COVID-19 – I know how to live with the monster, the authority.”
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Among the global critics of China – many of whom are now mobilizing for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing – Meng brings the unique perspective of a former insider who has gone through the spectacle and emerged with his views transformed. So profound is the change that she has largely stopped using her Chinese name, Gao Ge. She says she now feels more herself as Grace, her chosen name, with her husband’s last name, Meng.
“I’m dead and been reborn,” she says.
About Meng, his whereabouts and health as a prisoner, soon 68-year-old, she is completely in the dark. Their last communication was two text messages he sent on September 25, 2018 on a business trip to Beijing. The first one said, “wait for my call.” It was followed four minutes later by an emoji of a kitchen knife that apparently signaled danger. She believes he probably sent them from his office in the Ministry of Public Security.
Since then, she says she has not had contact with him and that several letters that her lawyers have sent to the Chinese authorities have gone unanswered. She’s not even sure he’s alive.
“This has already made me sad beyond the point where I can get even sadder,” she said. “Of course it’s just as cruel to my kids.”
“I do not want the children to have no father,” she added, beginning to cry. “When the kids hear someone knocking on the door, they always go to look. I know they hope the person who comes inside becomes their father. But every time they realize it’s not, it lowers. they are silent. their heads. They are extremely brave. “
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The official word about Meng’s fate came out sprinkled and sad. A statement in October 2018, just moments after Grace Meng first met with journalists in Lyon, France, to sound the alarm about his disappearance, announced that he was being investigated for unspecified offenses. It signaled that he was the latest senior Chinese official to fall victim to a party purge.
Interpol announced that Meng had resigned as president with immediate effect. It still annoys his wife, who says the Lyon-based police force “was of no help at all.” She argues that by not taking a firmer stance, the global organization working on common law enforcement issues has only encouraged authoritarian behavior from Beijing.
“Can a person who has been forcibly disappeared write a letter of resignation of his own free will?” she asked. “Can a police organization turn a blind eye to a typical criminal act like this?”
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In 2019, China announced that Meng had been deprived of his membership of the Communist Party. It said he abused his power to satisfy his family’s “extravagant lifestyle” and allowed his wife to use his authority for personal gain. In January 2020, a court announced that he had been sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison on charges of accepting more than $ 2 million in bribes. The court said he pleaded guilty and expressed regret.
His wife has long claimed that the accusations were trumped up and that her husband was purged because he had used his high-profile position to push for change.
“It’s a fake case. It’s an example of a political disagreement that has turned into a criminal affair,” she said. “The scale of corruption in China today is extremely serious. It’s everywhere. But there are two different opinions on how to solve corruption. One is the method used now. The other is to move towards constitutional democracy, for to solve the problem at its roots. “
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Grace Meng also has political connections through her own family. Her mother served in an advisory body to the Chinese legislature. And the family has previous experiences with political trauma. After the communist takeover in 1949, Grace Meng’s grandfather was deprived of his business assets and later imprisoned in a labor camp, she said.
History, she says, repeats itself.
“Obviously, this is a great tragedy in our family, a source of great suffering,” she told the AP. “But I also know that a lot of families in China today are facing a fate similar to mine.”