China says 3 more dissidents set free

February 05, 1994|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- China, continuing to play hostage politics in the face of mounting U.S. pressure over its human rights abuses, announced yesterday that it had released three more imprisoned dissidents this week.

The best known is Xiao Bin, 46, a worker sentenced in 1989 to 10 years in jail for telling ABC-TV and others about the violence he witnessed during the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed protesters were killed in the assault.

News of the three releases -- all from prisons outside Beijing -- first came yesterday from John Kamm, an American businessman in Hong Kong who often serves as a conduit for the Chinese government on human rights matters. In a relatively unusual move, the releases then were confirmed by a state news agency report.

The releases quickly follow the issuance this week of the U.S. State Department's annual worldwide human rights report, which once again was sharply critical of China's limited civil freedoms.

Despite Chinese concessions in recent weeks, U.S. officials maintain that Beijing has not made "significant overall progress" on human rights, the standard established last year for renewal this June of its favorable trade standing with the U.S.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected the U.S. human rights report Thursday as an "utterly unreasonable and totally irresponsible" distortion of Chinese life.

The spokesman also played down recent rumors here that China would try to meet U.S. pressure with the release of several political prisoners in advance of next week's lunar New Year holiday, a traditional time here for acts of state benevolence.

Despite such rhetoric, China in recent years has adhered to a pattern of releasing a few imprisoned Tiananmen Square dissidents at critical junctures, such as just before the vote last year on a site for the 2000 Olympics.

Many observers view this as a stalling tactic in which China has callously used its jailed dissidents as political hostages, rather than tackle meaningful political reform.

Mr. Kamm said yesterday that he would not rule out the possibility of the releases of other political prisoners next week, perhaps even Wang Juntao or Chen Ziming, both serving 13-year sentences for allegedly masterminding the 1989 protests.

But, Mr. Kamm said, such moves are of limited significance in the larger Sino-American standoff over human rights. "Of course for the families involved, it's good news," Mr. Kamm said. "But I don't think that Washington is going to be impressed by two or three releases."

The three dissidents are:

* Mr. Xiao, of the east coast city of Dalian, who was paroled Wednesday. He had been interviewed in Beijing by ABC-TV immediately after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, an interview in which he imitated the sound of machine guns mowing down protesters.

Chinese state TV then ran pictures from that interview -- &L apparently recorded from ABC's satellite transmissions -- in appealing to the public for help in apprehending Mr. Xiao for "rumor-mongering." He was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in jail for "propagating counter-revolutionary lies."

* Liao Yiwu, 34, a poet in Sichuan province, who was released Monday, two months early from a four-year sentence for "counter-revolutionary incitement."

Mr. Liao was jailed in 1990 for preparing with others a videotape about the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown that was critical of the Chinese government, according to Asia Watch, the human rights group.

* Ding Junze, 52, a philosophy professor in Shanxi province, who was given a medical parole Wednesday from a 12-year jail term that began in 1990. He is suffering from a heart condition and spine ailments, Mr. Kamm said.

Mr. Ding was jailed for organizing an autonomous student union at Shanxi University during the 1989 protests, Asia Watch said. He has been in a prison hospital since last summer, the human rights group said.

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