Though out of jail, outspoken Chinese are hounded

November 15, 1991|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

SHANGHAI, CHINA — Some actions of two Chinese dissidents were transposed in an article Friday. Wang Ruowang led a protest march in Shanghai at the same time as the 1989 demonstrations in Beijing and wrote a protest letter to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. Zhang Weiguo is the lawyer and jhournalist who was mistreated in jail and warned his jailers they were violating Chinese law.

The Sun regrets the errors, which occurred during editing.

SHANGHAI, China -- Longtime Chinese dissident Wang Ruowang has some hard-gained advice for U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who arrives in Beijing today for two days of talks with Chinese leaders on human rights abuses and other points of friction between China and the United States.

"Baker must let our government know that the problem of human rights is not just one country's affair but an international affair. He must tell those dictators that they can't hide behind that nonsense anymore just to protect their own power," the 74-year-old writer, social critic and former Communist Party member said in an interview at his Shanghai apartment last weekend.


"Baker should not hesitate to put a lot of pressure on China's leaders. There is no need to be polite to them. They do not admit it, but in reality they fear America," said Mr. Wang, who has been labeled the "grandfather" of the current Chinese dissident movement.

Mr. Wang has gained his knowledge of the Chinese government's fears firsthand. The prolific writer has been jailed three times since 1934 for expressing his political views, once by the Chinese Nationalist government and twice by the Communists.

His most recent arrest followed the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989. Though never formally charged, he was held in a Shanghai detention center for more than a year before being released Oct. 30, 1990.

His life since then attests to the grim reality that in China these FTC days, you do not have to be in jail to be a political prisoner.

Mr. Wang said his phone has been cut off by security agents. He has not been allowed to publish his writings. He has been refused a passport, preventing him from accepting invitations to lecture at Columbia University in New York. He can't leave Shanghai without permission from local officials.

During the last year, he said, he and his 59-year-old wife, Feng Suying, have been yanked out of their apartment more than 20 times by officials and interrogated separately in sessions that have lasted as long as 30 hours, usually after contacts with foreigners.

"Before, I was in a small prison," Mr. Wang said. "Now, it's just a big prison. I tell the police that China's big door is supposed to be open now, so why is it that my little door is still closed?"

Stifling dissent

The fate of at least 1,000 political prisoners thought to remain in China's jails as a result of the Tiananmen Square movement will be high on the list of U.S. concerns during Mr. Baker's meetings this weekend with Chinese leaders.

His visit, which ends more than two years of U.S. diplomatic sanctions that began after the crackdown, has brought hope that China will respond with the release of some political prisoners.

But Mr. Wang's case sheds light on the much broader nature of the Chinese government's efforts to stifle dissent.

His is far from an isolated case. Take, for example, Zhang Weiguo, 34, who before the Tiananmen Square protests was one of China's most outspoken and influential journalists as the Beijing correspondent for the now-banned Shanghai weekly World Economic Herald.

Mr. Zhang spent 20 months in jail after the pro-democracy protests were suppressed. Like Mr. Wang, he was never charged with a crime. His offense appears to have been for leading a Shanghai protest march during the Beijing demonstrations and for writing an open letter to China's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, before the Tiananmen massacre.

He also has been subjected to continual official harassment since he was released from jail in February.

He has no job and is barred from finding one as a journalist or with any publishing house, he said. He sleeps on the floor of his brother's apartment. When he tried to leave Shanghai to visit a relative in a nearby village this fall, he was brought back by 40 armed guards and put back in jail for 21 days.

Officials drag him in for questioning about every two weeks, he said.

"Even when you are out of prison, they still try to control you," Mr. Zhang said in an interview in Shanghai a week ago. "Inside prison, outside prison -- it's all the same in China."

'A bunch of lies'

China's leaders, in the face of international criticism and in preparation for Mr. Baker's visit, issued a 62-page statement of their views on human rights. It said that ideas do not constitute a crime in China and that China does not have any political prisoners.

"What they're saying is a bunch of lies," Mr. Zhang said. "It was because of my thoughts and speech that I was put in jail and

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