BEIJING -- The United States has expressed strong concern to China about two prominent imprisoned Chinese dissidents who are on hunger strikes and has asked China to allow independent observers to visit them, the U.S. Embassy said yesterday.
In a statement, the embassy said that the United States finds "deeply disturbing" the recent news reports that Tiananmen Square activists Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming are being held (( under unhealthy conditions and that they launched "potentially dangerous" hunger strikes about 12 days ago.
Beginning late last year, U.S. officials have been asking China to grant amnesty to all political detainees.
The statement also directly signals that the United States has not reduced its interest in pressuring China on human rights: "We will continue to press for improvement in China's human rights situation, and the plight of nonviolent political dissidents in particular, until our concerns have been resolved."
Mr. Wang, 33, who reportedly has hepatitis, and Mr. Chen, 39, began hunger strikes last week in their cells in Beijing's No. 2 prison, according to sources close to their families. Their wives have been barred from seeing their husbands because of their efforts to draw international attention to the men's plight.
The two men, economists who founded a private research institute, are considered by the Chinese government to have been the masterminds behind the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. They both received 15-year jail terms after closed trials here in February, the stiffest sentences imposed on any of the alleged leaders of the protests.
Chinese officials have said that both men are in normal health and that their prison conditions are acceptable.
But sources close to their families say that the two are being kept in tiny, damp "punishment" cells infested with insects and reeking of sewage. Their hunger strikes are aimed at forcing officials to provide them better cells and adequate medical care, the sources say.
China briefly detained four women Thursday, including twAmericans and a Canadian, who came here to urge the government to improve the two dissidents' jail conditions. The women have ties to an overseas Chinese group opposed to China's current regime.
In another human rights case, China reportedly released from detention Wednesday night a former journalist for a now-banned newspaper who had been kept in custody for three weeks.
Zhang Weiguo, 43, of Shanghai, was released while his case is under investigation, according to a Western news agency account. Mr. Zhang, who spent eight months in prison after the 1989 protests, was jailed for a second time in late July, reportedly because he had been granting interviews to the foreign press.