Imprisoned Chinese dissident threatens hunger strike to get medical attention

August 07, 1991|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Ill with hepatitis, denied proper medical treatment and confined to a tiny, squalid cell, a leading imprisoned Chinese dissident is threatening to launch a hunger strike next week unless authorities accede to his repeated requests to be hospitalized, the dissident's wife said last night.

Wang Juntao, 33, sentenced in February to 13 years in jail for allegedly being one of "the black hands" behind the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, contracted the liver ailment while imprisoned in January before his trial, and his condition has steadily worsened, his wife, Hou Xiaotian, said in an interview.

Since April, Mr. Wang has beenheld in the Beijing No. 2 Prison, Ms. Hou said, in a 40-square-foot cell infested by insects, reeking of sewage and ventilated only by a single small window that also lets in rain.

She has been allowed to bring him medication, and he has received monthly blood tests, she said, that "showed his health is getting worse and worse. The conditions are terrible. He cannot recover."

Attempts by Mr. Wang's relatives to appeal to Chinese authorities to give the former journalist and economist proper care and improved conditions have gone unanswered, Ms. Hou said.

Last week, Asia Watch, a human rights organization based in New York, called on President Bush to ask China's leadership to release Mr. Wang from jail into the care of physicians of his own choosing. The president has not responded.

Mr. Wang's threat of a hunger strike and his wife's appeal came as Congress and Mr. Bush are at odds over the president's desire to unconditionally renew China's favorable trade status. This dispute centers on how best to express U.S. concerns over China's human rights abuses and particularly its harsh treatment of the Tiananmen protesters.

Mr. Wang is one of five Tiananmen dissidents suffering under similar conditions at the Beijing No. 2 Prison, according to Ms. Hou and a sister of one of the other dissidents. They were among about two dozen accused protest leaders sentenced last winter.

The other four, three of whom are said to have fallen ill in prison, are:

* Chen Ziming, 38, a colleague of Mr. Wang's, who was accused of being one of the masterminds behind the protests and who was sentenced to 13 years. He has an eye illness and a spreading skin disease, his sister, Chen Zihua, said last night.

* Wang Dan, 23, the student leader who was No. 1 on the "moswanted" list of 21 protesters after the bloody June 1989 crackdown. He was sentenced to four years. The condition of his health is not known.

* Ren Wanding, 45, an accountant and veteran dissident, who was sentenced to seven years. He reportedly has a heart problem.

* Bao Zunxin, a historian affiliated with the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who was sentenced to five years. Mr. Bao, who is believed to be in his 50s, reportedly suffers from heart disease.

Speaking out against the government is a potentially dangerous act in China, but both Mr. Wang's wife and Mr. Chen's sister say they don't fear the consequences.

"We have already talked to the concerned Chinese departments, but to no avail," Ms. Chen said. "We cannot be passive. We have to voice our opinion. We demand that they receive medical treatment."

Ms. Chen's husband was also jailed for nine months during 1989 and 1990 for his alleged role in the Tiananmen protests. Both are out of work after her brother's and Mr. Wang's private research institute was closed down after the Tiananmen crackdown.

Ms. Hou, 28, also is without a job or an apartment. She has been forced to live with friends. "Nobody will give me a job because they know my background," she said. "They think I would bring them trouble."

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