Chinese regime continues to persecute dissidents

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/** 299.0 **/ ** Topic: Article on China ** ** Written 9:38 AM Dec 23, 1996 by in ** From: October Review <>

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Chinese regime continues to persecute dissidents

Zhang Kai

Latest repressions

Wang Dan's case marks the climax of a series of recent repressions. Wei Jingsheng, one of the most well known dissidents, was sentenced to another term of 14 years after he was temporarily released in the last years of serving his 15-year sentence since 1979. Guo Haifeng was sentenced to 7 years on a charge of "hooliganism". Liu Nianchun, putting his signature to an open appeal for democracy and law, was sentenced to 3 years' re-education through labour. Zhang Zhongai from Xian, Shaanxi Province, was sentenced to 5 years on a charge of "counter-revolutionary instigation". Liu Xiaobo, publishing the October 10 Declaration this year together with Wang Xizhe, was sentenced to 3 years' re-education through labour. Yao Zhenxiang, who fled China in 1994, returned to Shanghai on a pledge from the Shanghai police promising non-persecution, was arrested together with his brother Yao Zhenxian, initially on a charge of his smuggling into China and his brother's aiding him, but later the charge was changed into spreading pornographic videos; they were each given 3 years and 2 years of reformation through labour. Li Wenming, staff of the Shenzhen Youth, and Guo Baosheng, student from the People's University, were both charged with conspiring to overthrow the government, the evidence being that they had set up an independent "Workers' Club" and published a magazine called Workers' Forum. Not only are the dissidents put behind bars for their exercise of the freedom of speech and association, they are also tortured physically and mentally. Many of them are barred from proper medical treatment and from meeting with their family. According to Wei Jingsheng's sister, Wei Ling, who managed to visit Wei Jingsheng in prison last September, his health had seriously deteriorated, with serious heart disease and hypertension, and having to resort to oxygen inhalation very frequently. Wei has been refused hospital treatment or parole. Liu Nianchun's wife, Chu Hainan, told reporters in early October that Liu was in very acute conditions, sometimes excreting blood 6 or 7 times a day. He might possibly have intestines cancer, but still he had to labour in farming. He was refused treatment in hospital. Wang Dan's mother met with him only eighteen months after he was arrested, and found Wang Dan in bad health, constantly coughing, and with prostatitis and stomach aches. Wang Dan's father reported that the food allowance in jail was a mere 2 yuan (US 22 cents) per day, so the malnutrition added on to the health problem. Tong Yi, formerly secretary to Wei Jingsheng and put in jail, was released in October. Her comment on her 30-month re-education through labour was "inhuman". Though the regulation was 6 hours of labour a day, the actual labour was over 12 hours a day. Reading of books or newspapers, watching TV, or listening to broadcast were all forbidden. It was a total cut-off from the outside world. The allowance for the labour was 5 yuan (US 55 cents) a month, food was very bad, and there was some meat only during festivals. Chen Ziming, having published an open letter in 1995, was thrown back into jail despite his cancer. Without adequate treatment, Chen Ziming's testicle cancer has reached a critical stage, and he has also hepatitis and acute diarrhoea. When Wang Dan's sentence caused international condemnation, and when China was negotiating with the US and the German governments for trade deals, Chen Ziming was allowed to go home on parole for medical treatment. However, he was on house arrest, and his family said that the jail had simply moved to his home.

The Wang Dan Case

Wang Dan's case is most illustrative of the persecution of the regime. In the prosecution's bill, Wang Dan was charged with writing over 30 articles and publishing them in journals and newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Wang Dan was quoted as having said that "given the seal of news from the people by the Chinese government, freedom of speech is reduced to empty words in the Constitution", that "the disoriented party under the leadership of the government and party leaders will not abandon any vested interest; to ensure its power is not restrained, it will go so far as to sacrifice the future of the country". These words were used as evidence of Wang Dan's slanderous smearing of government leaders. Wang Dan was also accused of conspiracy with dissidents in exile in the United States, and one "evidence" was Wang Dan's "setting up of a self-study programme by which he promoted China's democratisation while staying in China". The self-study programme referred to a correspondence course on Western Civilization offered by the University of Berkeley in which Wang Dan was enrolled and for which Wang received some tuition fee sponsorship from overseas Chinese. Resorting to such an absurd charge illustrates that the authorities could not find much other evidence. Two other charges were brought against Wang Dan. One was his appeal to put words into action. This referred to an appeal letter entitled "Proposal for guarantee of basic human rights and defence of social justice", and another appeal letter that Wang Dan wrote together with Bao Zunxin, Liu Xiaobo, Liu Nianchun and others, entitled "Learning a lesson of blood, promoting democracy and law". The former was submitted openly to the National People's Congress in early 1995, in which Wang Dan argued for his own constitutional rights under Article 41: "a citizen of the People's Republic of China has the right to criticize or make proposal to any state institution or state official", "and to any report, complaint or accusation made by a citizen, the state institution concerned should investigate into the facts and take up responsibility; there should not be any repression or revenge." The other charge was that "Wang Dan had set up a mutual aid scheme in which funding was provided to Kang Yuchun, Wang Guoqi and Liu Jingsheng etc." This was used as evidence of Wang Dan "networking with reactionary forces in China". Wang Dan's mother pointed out that Wang Dan was simply gathering some money to help send to school the children of jailed dissidents. The amount was only 10 or 20 yuan (US $1 or 2) for each child. The whole trial on Wang Dan took just 3 hours, during which Wang Dan had only 30 minutes to plead not guilty, and Wang Dan's mother, serving as his defence, had only a dozen minutes. The hearing of Wang's appeal took only 10 minutes to reaffirm the original sentence.

In a context of unrest

This latest wave of repression took place in a context of general unrest. Take simply the reports in Hong Kong's Ming Pao, November 8, the same day that Chen Ziming's parole was reported. First, in Qidong County, Hunan Province, tens of thousands of peasants from five townships petitioned the township governments between end of August and mid September, requesting reduction of the heavy tariffs. In one instance, 8,000 peasants clashed with the officials, and the police fired teargas on peasants who dashed to pieces the furniture in the township government office. Second, tens of thousands of electronics workers in Beijing carried out mass strikes around October 1, the National Day. They requested the municipal authorities to come up with concrete ideas and proposals for the reform of state enterprises. It was reported that work stoppage has been serious in state enterprises, and discontent among workers from state enterprises has been surfacing, and it was not unusual to see workers besieging party or government offices on petition, especially in the North Eastern provinces where state enterprises are more predominant. Third, a scholar working in the Party Cadre College pointed out that the "Resolution on the building of spiritual civilization" adopted by the 6th plenary meeting of the 14th Central Committee has evaded the main contradiction in society today, namely the problem of economics, with the reform of state enterprises lying at the heart of the problem. As for the question of the building of spiritual civilization, the main contradiction is the concern of the masses for graft and corruption on the part of party and government officials, with subsequent lack of confidence in the party and the government. It is with this context of massive unrest that high-handed repression of dissent is seen necessary as a measure of containment: the potential of the handful of dissidents linking up with mass discontent is too fearsome for the authorities.

15 November 1996

October Review Vol.23 Issue 5/6 1996.12.31

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