China set against leniency for political prisoners group asks Baker to press issue

March 29, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- China is showing no sign of leniency toward Wei Jingsheng, its most prominent political prisoner, despite the passing today of the 13th anniversary of his arrest.

The Committee to End the Chinese Gulag, a U.S.-based human rights group that includes exiled Chinese dissidents, appealed last week to U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III to press China for Mr. Wei's release.

"At a time when the Chinese leadership is espousing renewed emphasis on economic liberalization, it is crucial to advocate such a humanitarian measure," the group wrote to Mr. Baker. "Thirteen years of imprisonment for expressing a belief in political reform is deeply offensive to the most fundamental standards of human rights."

But in a rare public comment on Mr. Wei's status, China's justice minister, Cai Cheng, said Friday that the 42-year-old former electrician would not be released early because his attitude in prison has only been "average."

Mr. Wei, a leader of a brief pro-democracy movement here in 1978 and 1979, was arrested March 29, 1979, and sentenced months later to 15 years in jail for allegedly passing military secrets to a foreigner.

His real crime, though, appears to have been his publication of a scathing essay that advocated political freedoms and personally offended China's top leader, Deng Xiaoping.

"Responsibility for Wei's ongoing torment lies directly with China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, . . . who has supervised Wei's conditions of confinement," the human rights group charged.

In jail, Mr. Wei is believed to have lost his hair and teeth, and some reports say he has suffered from schizophrenia. He now is held in a labor reform camp in Hebei province, where he works in salt fields, the group said.

Mr. Cai also said Friday that two other prominent dissidents, Wang Juntao, 34, and Chen Ziming, 39, would not be released from jail early. Both were sentenced in February 1991 to 13 years in prison for their alleged roles as the masterminds of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Both have become ill in jail, Mr. Wang with hepatitis and Mr. Chen with a skin ailment. Authorities have rejected appeals from their families for better treatment.

Earlier this year, China claimed that all trials associated with the Tiananmen Square protests were completed. But last week, China's head prosecutor, Liu Fuzhi, said that other dissidents would be tried.

Most prominent among these cases is that of Bao Tong, the former secretary to deposed Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang. Mr. Bao, formally arrested in January, faces similar charges to Mr. Wei, leaking state secrets and spreading counter-revolutionary propaganda.

His trial appears to have been delayed thus far because of the party's internal political split over resolving its investigation of Mr. Zhao's alleged offenses leading up to the Tiananmen protests.

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