China & Tibet - Human Rights Watch World Report 1999 Chapter What You Can Do
Chinese Government Must Free Pro-Democracy Advocates
The Three Chinese Detainees
1. Wang Youcai  Read Update (December 9, 1998)

Wang Youcai, a leader in the movement to register the Chinese Democracy Party, a opposition political party, was formally arrested on November 30, 1998. He is being held in a State Security Detention Center in Zhejiang Province. The specific charges are unknown but are rumored to include subversion. On June 25, 1998 he and thirteen others had attempted to register the party in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Alone among the thirteen, he was arrested in July and charged with "incitement to overthrow the state" but was released seven weeks later on parole. He was picked up again on November 2, allegedly for violating parole.

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Wang has a long history of involvement in dissident activities. After serving part of a four-year sentence for his involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, he kept a low profile until 1998 when he became active in a petition and letter writing campaign urging China's leaders to honor international human rights standards. In April, he co-authored a petition demanding the release of two dissidents themselves jailed for petitioning and worker rights activities, and an end to the administrative sentencing system of reeducation through labor to which they were subject. A month later, he signed a petition calling for a reevaluation of the "current" ideology which, the petition said, led to corruption and a "trade of money for power." Even before then, in February, he was questioned about his dissident activities. Since then he has been under constant surveillance and subject to repeated questioning and short-term detention.

When Beijing University celebrated its 100 anniversary in late April 1998, public security officers held Wang, a graduate, for eight days to prevent him from any contact with enrolled students. Following his release he was warned not to leave Hangzhou, where he lives.

After the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, Wang was listed as No. 15 on the Chinese government's "21 Most Wanted Students" list. Then a twenty-four year-old physics major, he had been general-secretary of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation; he had also attempted to organize continued student resistance in Shanghai after the June 3-4, 1989 crackdown in Beijing. After his arrest, some time between June and September 1989, Wang became one of the first "most wanted" students to be tried. He was sentenced on January 5, 1991 by the Beijing Intermediate People's Court to a four-year term and one-year's deprivation of political rights for "inciting subversion" and "attempting to overthrow the socialist system." He was released early, on November 29, 1991 because he had "shown repentance."

2. Xu Wenli

On December 1, 1998, Xu Wenli, fifty-five, one of China's most prominent dissidents, was detained "on suspicion of damaging state security," a charge almost certainly related to his attempt to register the Beijing branch of the Chinese Democracy Party as the first opposition party since the 1949 establishment of the People's Republic of China. Xu acted as chairman of the Beijing and Tianjin cells of the party. If convicted, he faces up to ten years in prison.

Xu's detention may also be related to his unsuccessful attempts with other dissidents to officially establish an independent human rights monitoring group. After that effort failed and the group published two unauthorized issues of its newsletter on March 23-24, 1998, Xu was held at the local police station for twenty-four hours and warned not to "cross the line" and not to publish any material without first seeking approval. Xu decided otherwise, with the defiance that has kept him in and out of prisons for the last two decades.

Xu Wenli was first imprisoned during the 1979-81 Democracy Wall movement. At that time, he helped launch April Fifth Forum, a major dissident journal, and in November 1979 he put up a poster on the Democracy Wall. He wrote a twenty-point list of suggestions to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, circulated a private newsletter, gave numerous interviews to foreign journalists and television stations emphasizing the need for democracy in a Marxist society, and published several articles in Hong Kong under a pseudonym. Regarded as a moderate within the movement, Xu publicly protested the arrests of fellow Democracy Wall activists Wei Jingsheng and Liu Qing. He was arrested on October 4, 1981 and sentenced on June 8, 1982 to fifteen years for "illegally organizing a clique to overthrow the government."

In late 1985, he managed to smuggle out a detailed account, My Defense Statement, about his arrest, trial and general treatment in prison, including his 200 interrogation sessions. Following the document's publication abroad in 1986, Xu was moved to a windowless cell measuring only three square meters, where he spent three and a half years.

After serving twelve years, eleven of them in solitary confinement, Xu was released in 1993 but was repeatedly held for questioning thereafter and accused of violating his parole. After securing the restoration of his political rights in October 1996, he openly returned to political activities. Since then, he has been involved in criticizing China's human rights record to the foreign press, mobilizing dissidents in China, expanding his overseas contacts, and taking an active role in formulating dissident strategies and tactics. He has suffered continual harassment as a result and has been under constant public security surveillance, especially during high profile visits by foreign leaders and diplomats. His home has been searched; his telephone routinely tapped; his computer, fax machine, documents, and address books confiscated. He has been hauled in for questioning innumerable times and has disappeared for days at a time after being taken into police custody.

A few days before his planned trip on May 29, 1998 to visit relatives in Shenzhen, police warned the veteran dissident that if he attempted to go he would have a police escort. He left on schedule, but never arrived at his destination having been held by police in Huizhou, Guangdong province for the better part of a week. Permission for his sister to visit during his detention or for Xu to visit her after his release was denied. Three weeks earlier, on May 9, he disappeared for three days after boarding a train for Wuhan to visit a fellow dissident. On April 25, police stopped him from driving his wife to the airport on the grounds that he was not wearing a seat belt. In February, when police learned that he planned to meet with the Beijing correspondent for the New York Times, two officers showed up Xu's house to prevent the meeting. Other officers escorted the correspondent to the police station to "explain" the rules about unapproved interviews. There have been numerous other incidents.

3. Qin Yongmin

Qin Yongmin, a forty-four-year-old veteran dissident from Wuhan, Hubei province, was detained on December 1, 1998 on suspicion that he had damaged state security, a charge that could bring him ten years in prison. His detention is probably the result of his outspoken efforts to establish a political party called the Chinese Democracy Party. Qin has also been involved in efforts to establish an independent human rights monitoring organization. He has helped write and circulate petitions to China's leaders and to bring the cases of imprisoned dissidents to the attention of the international community.

As a result, Qin has suffered ongoing harassment, detention, police questioning, and repeated short term detention. In May 1998, in an attempt to cripple his activities, public security officers confiscated his fax machine, and some articles and personal telephone lists.

Qin, who had already spent seven years in prison, was rearrested on April 23, 1993 in Beijing for activities opposing the awarding of the 2000 Olympics to Beijing. He was escorted back to Wuhan, Hubei Province, and held for two weeks for "shelter and investigation." He was released after he signed a paper accusing him of committing the crime of "incitement." Afterwards, he said the police came to his home many times. His phone was tapped and his mail stopped. Qin, who at the time operated a street stall (he still does), was warned not to talk about his opposition to the games with foreign journalists, not to form any anti-Olympic organization, and not to distribute anti-Olympic literature.

After the Olympics were given to Sydney, Australia, Qin signed the Peace Charter, a document which called on the government to allow political change through dialogue. The Peace Charter group also asked for the release of all political prisoners and for exiled persons to be permitted to return. Qin was then arrested and sentenced without trial to two years in a labor reform prison camp. In the prison camp Qin was twice beaten until he lost consciousness.