A leader of Tiananmen Square protest who revisited China is expelled to U.S.

October 25, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- China yesterday suddenly expelled to America dissident student leader who had been detained for almost two months after returning here to start a pro-democracy organization.

The dissident, Shen Tong, a 24-year-old former Tiananmen Square protest leader who is a graduate student at Boston University, was put on a U.S.-bound plane yesterday by security agents, said his mother, Li Yixian, who was taken by police to the Beijing airport to see him off.

Mr. Shen, who looked well but weary yesterday during a stopover in San Francisco, said he was grateful for the international pressures that had helped win his release.

He said the only reason he had agreed to leave China was that the Chinese authorities promised to release other people who had been arrested because of him.

"The No. 1 thing I'm concerned about is other people that have been arrested because of me, and I hope the international community can keep up the pressure," Mr. Shen said.

"Don't let the fact that they released me mislead people's judgment. The human rights situation hasn't been changed in China. The No. 1 thing I felt during my trip in China is repression."

Mr. Shen fled China in 1989 in the wake of the brutal crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protesters. He boldly returned in late July to meet underground dissidents and to try to legally establish here a branch of the Democracy for China Fund, a U.S.-based human rights group that he founded and heads.

He and two other activists, Qi Dafang and Qian Liyun, were taken into custody Sept. 1 by security agents here. Later, China accused them of conducting "illegal activities."

The whereabouts of the two other dissidents was not known last night. Mr. Shen's mother, Ms. Li, said he had been told that the two likely would be released soon.

Mr. Shen's detention posed a quandary for China, which has been trying to lure back tens of thousands of Chinese students from the United States and other foreign nations with the promise that they would face no punishment here for their political activities or views.

His detention also increased Sino-American political friction over China's human rights abuses, with 74 U.S. senators, including the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Al Gore, urging his release.

"China's dilemma was whether to hold him and create a very young Chinese Sakharov or release him and create a very young Chinese Solzhenitsyn," Marshall Strauss, executive director of the Democracy for China Fund, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

pTC He referred to the late dissident Andrei Sakharov, who suffered years of internal exile in the former Soviet Union, and to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the novelist who was expelled from Russia in 1974.

After he was taken into custody, Mr. Shen faced some criticism for potentially exposing to danger other Chinese dissidents whom he had contacted in what some viewed as a courageous, but naive, pursuit.

But Mr. Strauss said that every dissident who met with Mr. Shen in China was aware of the risks. "It is not for us to tell Chinese how to live their lives," he said.

Mr. Strauss also said that Mr. Shen's return here accomplished its main ambitions: strengthening ties between overseas dissidents and those in China and documenting the existence of underground Chinese democracy groups.

He said Chinese dissidents have been supplied with computer modems with which to communicate with exiles abroad. Two French journalists, who had been traveling with Mr. Shen and were deported when he was detained, are about to release an hourlong documentary video on the dissident movement in China, he said.

After Mr. Shen was airborne yesterday, China's official news agency confirmed his expulsion and contended that he had been given an exit visa after he had "confessed his illegal activities involving the establishment of anti-government organizations in China at the instigation and with the support of certain foreign forces."

"He admitted his guilt . . . and asked for leniency," the state news service said.

But Mr. Shen's mother, Ms. Li, said that was not the case.

"He did not admit any guilt," she said, adding that security agents even told Mr. Shen that "after he finishes his studies in America, he is welcome to return to help the motherland."

Mr. Shen said he was too tired to talk much and would hold a news conference soon.

In Boston, historian Russ Terrill said he expected Mr. Shen to resume graduate studies in social science at Boston University.

Mr. Shen said he didn't know whether Chinese authorities would allow him to go back to China, but he added, "I will, I'm sure I will, with or without their permission, I will."

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