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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No freedom of speech: China trumps up charges, jails Zhou Yongjun, former leader of Tiananmen Square Movement

China Jails a Former Leader of Tiananmen Square Movement

by Michael Wines, New York Times, May 13, 2009

BEIJING — A former student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, who was seized and secretly imprisoned by Chinese authorities as he sought to re-enter China last October, has been charged with fraud, his family said on Wednesday.

News of the charge against Zhou Yongjun, who headed the Beijing Students’ Autonomous Union early in the movement, surfaced only weeks before the June 4 anniversary of the bloody crackdown that killed hundreds of demonstrators.

China’s government has gone to unusual lengths this year to ensure that the twentieth anniversary of the crackdown, a momentous date for many human-rights advocates, passes unnoticed here.

Authorities filed the fraud charge in Suining, the town in Sichuan Province in southwest China where Mr. Zhou’s family lives and where he is jailed, his older sister, Zhou Shufen, said in an interview from Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital. Ms. Zhou said her family in Suining told her that the local Public Security Bureau had delivered a notice of the charge to their home.

Neither she nor other family members have been allowed to see Mr. Zhou. But other prisoners and officials have told them that his case is “political,” she said, and that other prisoners have been told to avoid him.

“Our family demands that they release him immediately and call to account those who have illegally detained him,” she said.

Mr. Zhou’s partner at their California home, Zhang Yuewei, said in an interview that she could not explain why he had been accused of fraud, because he had not lived in China for years.

“He just came back to visit his parents now, because they’re old and in poor health,” she said. “He also wanted to take his parents to the States to emigrate, so they could have a better life.”

John Kusumi, an official of the China Support Network, a United States-based organization formed after the 1989 protests, said that Mr. Zhou apparently was detained as he tried to cross the Hong Kong border into mainland China in early October of last year. He has been jailed ever since.

Mr. Zhou, who is also known by his English name Majer Zhou, fled China in the early 1990s and has been a permanent U.S. resident since 1993.

A spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing said that officials there had heard reports of the arrest and were looking into it, but had no other comment.

Mr. Zhou, 41, was an undergraduate at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing in 989, when the school became the first to send students into Tiananmen Square to honor Hu Yaobang, the reform-minded Chinese leader whose death triggered the democracy protests.

Mr. Zhou was elected the first president of the Students’ Autonomous Union, but lost the position after a disagreement over whether to proceed with a crucial demonstration in late April 1989. Mr. Zhou remained part of the democracy movement, however, and was in the square during the June 4 military assault.

He served two years in prison for his role in the protest, then fled to Hong Kong and, later, the United States. He was arrested and imprisoned for three more years in 1998 after attempting to re-enter China.

Also on Wednesday, the United States-based Dui Hua Foundation, a human-rights advocacy organization lowered its estimate of the number of Tiananmen protesters who remain imprisoned nearly two decades after the movement was crushed.

The foundation said it believe about 30 persons remain in jail, down significantly from the 50 to 60 prisoners it has previously reported. The group lowered its estimate after Chinese officials notified it of the early release of several former protesters, and other researchers documented the status of 104 demonstrators who had been jailed in Beijing Number Two Prison after the June 4 crackdown. All but six of those prisoners have been released, the foundation stated.

The group said that it could positively identify 10 remaining prisoners, aged 39 to 70, and has the names of nine more who it suspects are still in jail. Roughly a dozen other prisoners, whose names are unknown, are also believed to still be serving prison sentences for their roles in the protests.

The foundation’s executive director, John Kamm, urged the Chinese government to grant them early releases. “Most of these prisoners are middle-aged men who have benefited from several sentence reductions as testimony to their good behavior,” he said in a statement. “Releasing them would be broadly welcomed in China and around the world.”

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