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Chinese "Justice"

When will Beijing release U.S.-based activist Yang Jianli?

11:00 PM, Jan 20, 2005 • By RACHEL DICARLO
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WEDNESDAY marked the 1,000th day that pro-democracy activist Yang Jianli has been incarcerated in a Chinese prison. Congressmen Barney Frank and Christopher Cox, along with Jianli's wife, Christina Fu, and his lawyer, held a press conference to commemorate the occasion, to review the state of human rights in China, and to call for a medical parole for Jianli, who suffered a debilitating stroke in July.

Jianli, a permanent U.S. resident, is founder of the Foundation for China in the 21st Century. A former member of China's Communist party, Jianli eventually became skeptical of the repressive Chinese government and emigrated to America in 1986 to study at Berkeley and Harvard. He returned to China in June of 1989 to support students during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Because of his involvement he was blacklisted and exiled by Beijing. Jianli fled to America, where he became a permanent resident under a special program for Tiananmen Square activists.

In the spring of 2002, Jianli returned to China to observe labor unrest in the northeastern part of the country. On April 26, 2002, he was taken into custody by Chinese officials at Kunming airport on charges of using a false passport. He spoke to his wife briefly from a hotel--their last communication for a year.

Jianli spent that time in solitary confinement, handcuffed and denied any exercise, reading materials, or access to defense counsel. His family was not given any information of his whereabouts. He was tortured with electric wands and clamps on his fingers, and interrogated more than 100 times. The Chinese government violated their own law when they failed to release him after 37 days, which is required if no warrant is filed.

In the meantime, various political groups took up Jianli's case. In June of 2003, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, a body made up of experts from France, Algeria, Paraguay, Hungary, and Iran, found that Jianli had been held in violation of international law. The group asked China to "take the necessary steps to remedy the situation." Beijing responded that Jianli was suspected of "illegally crossing the state frontier" and "might have committed other offenses."

The U.S. Congress unanimously passed several resolutions condemning Jianli's prolonged imprisonment and demanding his release. On the second anniversary of Jianli's imprisonment, 67 members of Congress sent a letter to Chinese president Hu Jintao calling his treatment "extraordinarily inhumane." Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, told Fu that American officials had pressed high-level Chinese authorities on the matter.

With the legal time limit for a criminal investigation about to end--and the maximum one-year punishment for illegal entry almost up--Chinese authorities reset the clock by starting a new investigation of Jianli, who they alleged had been spying for Taiwan, a crime punishable by death.

Jianli was tried after 14 months of imprisonment (another violation of Chinese law) and waited 9 more months a verdict. He was convicted of illegal entry and espionage and sentenced to five years in prison. ("State secrets" were allegedly involved, so the hearing was closed to the public.)

Jianli is now up for parole. Under Chinese law, a prisoner is eligible if he has served half his sentence with good behavior, or if he has a medical condition. Jianli fits both of these descriptions.

With half of his body paralyzed, Jianli, who was in good health when he left the United States, has said he will accept a medical parole, which means Beijing does not have to admit any wrong-doing.

As of this writing, he is still prevented from sending letters home. This week was the first time his wife was allowed to see him since he was arrested.

"To me, he didn't look healthy," Fu said, wiping away tears. "He didn't look good."

Rachel DiCarlo is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.