China jails best-known dissident

April 02, 1994|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING HTC — BEIJING -- China's best-known dissident, Wei Jingsheng, has been taken into custody by authorities once again -- a move likely to further aggravate Sino-American frictions over human rights.

Mr. Wei, 44, was picked up by police while traveling to Beijing about 5 p.m. yesterday, after nearly a month spent in northeast China, said his secretary, Tong Yi, who was with him. His whereabouts were not known last night.

About a half-dozen police cars forced the vehicle in which Mr. Wei was riding to stop on the expressway between Beijing and the port city of Tianjin, she said.

The officers showed Mr. Wei a warrant, took him into one of their cars and drove off toward Beijing.

"I don't know why he was taken away," Ms. Tong said last night by phone. "I cannot talk very much. I am under heavy surveillance."

Mr. Wei, a former electrician, served 14 1/2 years in prison because of his pro-democracy efforts in the late 1970s.

After his parole in September, he fearlessly resumed lobbying for more human rights and political pluralism here. He frequently met with foreign reporters and began to publish political essays abroad.

About a month ago, Mr. Wei was briefly detained by police after meeting with John Shattuck, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights, a meeting that seemed to set the Beijing regime's nerves on edge. Authorities then told Mr. Wei and several other prominent dissidents to leave Beijing, an order that sent Mr. Wei on his tour of northeast China.

His departure came right before the arrival of Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher for what turned out to be a bruising series of talks with Chinese leaders on human rights and China's favorable trade status with the United States.

In those meetings, Chinese officials lambasted the United States for Mr. Shattuck's meeting with Mr. Wei. In turn, U.S. officials cited harassment of Mr. Wei and other dissidents as examples of China's human-rights abuses.

Given Mr. Wei's high-profile, his latest detention will make it even harder for the Clinton administration to argue that China has improved its human-rights record sufficiently to justify renewing its most-favored-nation (MFN) trade standing with the United States.

His detention also signals that the tight security put in place for Mr. Christopher's visit is likely to remain at least until early June, when both the MFN-decision deadline and the fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre fall.

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