In the previous issue of Dialogue, Dui Hua provided updates on three individuals imprisoned during the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations. We noted that the foundation has been expanding its efforts to obtain updates on the whereabouts of the several dozen individuals we believe remain in prison for offenses connected with the events of 1989. Following a Dui Hua request for information made in September 2007, we recently learned of the release of Zhou Yan
(周彦), who had been serving a life sentence in Shanghai’s Tilanqiao Prison.
At the time of his arrest, Zhou was a 23-year-old worker at a Shanghai textile factory. According to a People’s Daily report published on July 23, 1989, Zhou allegedly became an agent for Taiwan while studying in Japan in the spring of 1988. After returning to China later that year, he recruited agents in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Prosecutors accused Zhou and his agents of infiltrating the ranks of student and citizen organizations during the 1989 demonstrations in Shanghai in order to gather intelligence and incite unrest. The newspaper account reported that they organized a crowd of demonstrators who shouted: “I love money but love democracy and freedom even more!”
Zhou’s case was only infrequently placed on prisoner lists, since so little was known about his fate until very recently. In 2006, an official Chinese response to a request for information indicated that Zhou’s life sentence had never been adjusted. But the update received by Dui Hua just over a year later revealed that Zhou had in fact received multiple sentence reductions and been released in July 2006.
According to Dui Hua’s research, it is believed that Zhou Yan was the last individual released from prison due to non-violent political acts during the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations. However, Ngawang Phulchung (阿旺平穷), a Tibetan monk whose active participation during separate pro-independence protests in March 1989 brought him a 19-year prison sentence for “leading a counterrevolutionary group,” espionage, and illegal border-crossing, remained in prison longer, having just been released in October 2007.
Dui Hua’s prisoner database shows that dozens of individuals may remain in prison for activities connected to the 1989 protests, most given suspended death sentences or life imprisonment for crimes involving “looting, smashing, and burning.” Of these, most have been incarcerated in Beijing—particularly in Beijing Number Two Prison—but there are known to be a handful of others still imprisoned elsewhere, including in Shanghai, Hunan, and Shaanxi. Because of the nature of their alleged crimes, these individuals’ cases are not typically raised in the context of human rights dialogues with China.
Based on information received about the cases of Zhou Yan, Li Weihong (李卫红)—who was released from a Hunan prison in November 2007 after a series of commutations and reductions to his original suspended death sentence for “hooliganism”—and others, it appears likely that many, if not most, of these so-called “hooligans” have had their sentences commuted to fixed-term imprisonment and have benefited from subsequent sentence reductions. Some have no doubt been released with little notice by the outside world. Dui Hua hopes to be able to report the releases of many more of these long-serving prisoners in the months ahead.