TUESDAY marked the third year that pro-democracy activist Yang Jianli has spent in a Chinese prison. Congressman Barney Frank, along with Jianli's wife, Christina Fu, and his lawyer, Jared Genser, held a press conference yesterday to acknowledge the sad anniversary and urge a medical parole for Jianli, who suffered a paralyzing stroke last July.
Jianli has a long history with China. A former member of the Chinese Communist party, he eventually abandoned their belief system and left for America in 1986 to study at Harvard and Berkeley.
Jianli returned to his homeland in 1989 to support students in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. When Beijing found out about his involvement, they added him to a list of approximately 50 dissidents who were formally blacklisted and forbidden to return to China. Jianli fled again to America and became a permanent resident under a program which provides citizenship to Tiananmen Square activists.
In the spring of 2002, prohibition notwithstanding, he entered China with a friend's passport so he could visit with political activists and observe labor unrest in the northeastern part of the country. When Chinese officials discovered he was in the country they detained him at Kunming Airport and took him into custody. He spoke with his wife from a hotel; it would be their last contact for more than a year.
Since then, Jianli has been held incommunicado--in solitary confinement, handcuffed, and denied any reading materials or exercise. He has been tortured with electric wands and clamps on his fingers more than 100 times. His family has not been kept up to date on his whereabouts since the Chinese government prevented him from sending letters home and wouldn't allow Fu to visit him until January 2005.
Most recently, his lawyer says, Jianli was beaten by four prison guards and since he is denied legal counsel (Genser pursues Jianli's case through Fu) he has no way of filing complaints about the abuse. The Chinese government violated their own law when they refused to release Jianli after 37 days, which is required if no warrant is filed.
On at least one occasion, Fu has been a victim of shabby treatment by the Chinese Embassy, according to Genser's organization Freedom Now. In July 2003, she and her children went there and attempted to deliver a card to send Jianli for his 40th birthday. They wouldn't even open the door.
But various groups have taken up Jianli's cause. In December 2002, Genser submitted a petition to the United Nations's Commission on Human Rights' Working Group claiming that Jianli's incommunicado status violates fundamental human rights and freedoms recognized under international law. In 2003, the group concurred and asked China to "take the steps necessary to remedy the situation." Beijing merely responded that Jianli has "illegally cross[ed] the state frontier" and "might have committed other offenses."
Both the House and the Senate have unanimously passed resolutions condemning Jianli's imprisonment and demanding his release. On the second anniversary of his incarceration, 67 members of Congress sent a letter to Chinese president Hu Jintao calling Jianli's treatment "extraordinarily inhumane." Shortly thereafter Condoleezza Rice told Fu that high-level government officials in China had been pressed on the matter.
Harvard president Lawrence Summers, at least 34 Harvard faculty members, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have also written to the Chinese government to express their concern.
So with time running out for a criminal investigation and the maximum one year punishment for illegal entry almost up, Beijing restarted the clock by opening a new investigation of Jianli, alleging that he had been spying for Taiwan, a crime punishable by death.
The Chinese government finally began that trial in August 2003. (The prolonged waiting period again violated Chinese law.) After another nine months Beijing found him guilty of espionage and illegal entry and sentenced him to five years in prison.
Under Chinese law, a prisoner is eligible for parole after he has served half his sentence with good behavior, or if he has a medical problem. Jianli fits both of these categories.
Post-stroke, his condition is rapidly worsening. "Jianli's health remains poor," Genser says. "He is only given blood thinners and aspirin and his vision continues to deteriorate." With half his body nearly numb, Jianli, who was healthy when he left the United States, has said he'll take a medical parole, which means Beijing won't have to admit any wrongdoing.
Fu holds out hope that he'll be home soon. "My husband is a man of peace who abhors violence and his mission was completely humanitarian," she said Tuesday. "Yet now he sits languishing in prison, three years later, having already paid the price for that one illegality."
Rachel DiCarlo is an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard.