Rights group blasts China's Olympic bid Political dissidents see trials delayed

September 21, 1993|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- Pressure built yesterday against China's bid to host the 2000 Olympics as a U.S.-based human rights group accused the government of deliberately putting off its largest set of trials of political dissidents in two years until after the International Olympics Committee announces its choice this week.

The charge made by Asia Watch, a human rights monitoring group, came as China's most famous political prisoner met for the first time with reporters here and said he hoped his early release from prison had not been timed to influence the IOC's decision in favor of China.

Wei Jingsheng, the most prominent of three Chinese dissidents released from jail last week, said such a ploy "would be dirty and abnormal [and] not fit with the whole national desire to hold the Olympics."

Beijing is competing for the right to host the Olympics against Sydney, Australia; Manchester, England; Istanbul, Turkey; and Berlin. The IOC site selection committee has been meeting this week in Monte Carlo and is expected to announce its choice Thursday.

The Monte Carlo meeting has acquired an unusual political dimension with the challengers to China's bid complaining that the country should be disqualified because of its human rights record.

Yesterday, Monaco police barred a group of Tibetans trying to deliver a petition against China. After talks with police, the protesters handed a petition with 30,000 signatures from more than 20 countries opposing Beijing's candidacy to Monaco's IOC member, Gilles Tonelli.

In its complaint faxed to news organizations in Beijing, Asia Watch said the first 17 of as many as 30 dissidents who were detained last year for involvement in various underground alliances or unions are scheduled to be tried next month as "counterrevolutionaries," a crime punishable by death.

This would be the largest set of political trials here since early 1991, when a cluster of trials was held for some of the alleged leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests for democratic reforms.

"The Chinese leadership appears to be deliberately postponing these trials until after the decision of the International Olympic Committee is announced," Asia Watch said.

China's reaction to the campaign against it during the Olympics selection process has been alternately defiant, with assertions that the human rights issues have no place in the Olympics consideration, and conciliatory, with the recent releases of some jailed dissidents.

Most observers here believed that China's release of Wei Jingsheng was designed to improve the government's image just before the Monte Carlo meeting.

Appearing at his home for the first time since his release, Mr. Wei expressed defiance after his 14 1/2 years in prison.

"I never regret what I do," he said. "Of course I would still do it, and maybe I would do it better now."

Mr. Wei, 43, vowed that he would continue to fight for "democracy and progress in China." But first, he said, "I need to look around and understand the situation. . . . I know nothing about the outside."

He was jailed in 1979 for his leading role in the "Democracy Wall" movement that was first encouraged and then crushed by China's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, who had just come to power.

An electrician who edited a dissident journal, Mr. Wei put up wall posters calling for democracy.

He is said to have particularly raised Mr. Deng's ire for calling him "a new autocrat," and he was convicted of passing state secrets to a foreigner. It was widely viewed as a trumped-up charge, and he denies it.

Mr. Wei was paroled last Tuesday morning from a prison about 130 miles east of Beijing, six months before the end of his 15-year sentence and just 10 days before this Thursday's IOC vote.

But China has failed to immediately reap the positive publicity that officials perhaps expected from Mr. Wei's release because, instead of going home, he stayed with police until last night at suburban guest houses -- away from reporters.

It still is not clear how much coercion was involved in this. One of Mr. Wei's sisters indicated over the weekend he was impatient to come home, suggesting he was being kept against his will. But his brother last night said the delay was voluntary.

Mr. Wei talked as he sat calmly in a chair in the cramped living room of his parents' apartment. Small groups of foreign reporters were allowed in by several neighbors who took it upon themselves to control the scene. He looked only mildly dazed by the attention.

His younger brother and one of two younger sisters stood by, beaming widely at him. His father and stepmother -- his mother died while he was in prison -- retired to their bedroom; Mr. Wei and his father are said by neighbors to have had troubled relations.

For someone who suffered extreme hardships and was widely rumored to have lost his mind during his more than 14 years in jail, he appeared in remarkably good shape. He seemed very tired and referred several times to having a heart problem, but he said he had no other serious ailments.

"For a while when I was in prison, the food was very bad, awful," he said. "And there was no sunlight. My physical situation, my body, was very weak. So my teeth gradually fell out."

But authorities gave Mr. Wei new teeth within the last year. His stomach reveals a slight paunch. His face is fairly plump. And his skin evidences more of his last week in Beijing's suburbs than his early years of imprisonment -- many of them in solitary confinement -- in labor camps in the Qinghai region in China's desolate northwest.

His appearance clouds what he has gone through; there have been indications of an official effort over the last year to restore his health as much as possible in preparation for his possible release.

And so, last night his only readily apparent injury lay beneath a white gauze bandage wrapped round the thumb of his right hand -- a minor injury, one of his neighbors said, caused by recreational shooting at a guest house while in police custody.

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