In a rare act of clemency to a prisoner convicted of subversion, Li Wenshan (李文山), a leader of the Chinese People’s Democracy Party (中华人民主党), was released two years early from a 13-year sentence in May 2011. His release marks the first official confirmation of an early release for a prisoner convicted of subversion since September 2009. Li was immediately released after his sentence was commuted (减刑释放) and is currently serving a supplemental sentence of five years deprivation of political rights.
The Chinese People’s Democracy Party aimed to take power through democratic elections; fight corruption; and promote democracy, human rights, and prosperity. Unlike China’s better-known opposition parties, it was led not by intellectuals, but by farmers. At its height, the Chinese People’s Democracy Party had nearly 1,000 members across 10 rural counties in southeastern Gansu province. Chen Shiqing (陈世清), who, like Li, was a farmer and leading member of the party, was released nine months early from an eight-year sentence in December 2006.
Uyghur journalist Ghariyet Niyaz has been confirmed to be incarcerated in Xinjiang No. 3 Prison. He is reportedly in good health and permitted to receive family visits. Niyaz was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on splittism charges for telling a Hong Kong news magazine that he had warned Xinjiang officials of violence the day before the Urumqi Riots erupted on July 5, 2009. His appeal was subsequently rejected. At the time of his arrest, Niyaz was a Communist Party member who advocated for dialogue among Uyghur and Han Chinese.
Falun Gong practitioners Yu Guoping (于国平) and Xu Huayang (许华洋) were both released early after receiving at least one sentence reduction. Yu was originally scheduled for release in August 2013, while Xu was expected to complete her sentence in March. Tried separately in Jiangsu province, both were sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for “using a cult to undermine implementation of the law.” The Falun Gong was banned as an illegal cult in 1999, making it a crime to participate in related gatherings and to make and distribute relevant informational materials.
The first official response that Dui Hua has received on Sun Xianlu (孙宪禄) revealed that Sun has not received any sentence reductions in the 18 years he has served of a life sentence. (The estimated average time served for a life sentence in China is 15 years.) Sun is one of many Chinese charged during the 1990s with hijacking civil passenger flights to redirect them to Taiwan.
During the 1990s, hijackers were often described in official Chinese media as a diverse group of individuals—including farmers, government cadres, people with financial debts, and pilots—who were unsatisfied with current living conditions. They reportedly hoped to receive asylum in Taiwan amid the anti-China sentiment that reigned during the presidency of Lee Teng-hui. Although China and Taiwan formally agreed to repatriate criminal offenders in the Jinmen Agreement in September 1990, the agreement was rarely enforced before 1997. According to the Chongqing Morning Post, 21 total and 10 successful hijackings occurred in 1993, the year the hijacking trend reached its peak.
Sun Xianlu was charged with hijacking after he boarded a plane to Shanghai on November 28, 1993. The steelworker from Tianjin allegedly used explosives to demand that the flight change course to Taiwan, but the plane ultimately made an emergency landing in Nanjing. Sun was sentenced to life imprisonment in January 1994.
Chinese lawmakers struck hijacking from the category of “counterrevolutionary sabotage” on December 28, 1992. The change ostensibly depoliticized the act but did nothing to affect the fates of those convicted for the political offense. Dui Hua research indicates that several individuals remain in prison for the now defunct crime. Among them is labor and human rights activist Jiang Cunde (蒋存德), one of the longest-serving “counterrevolutionaries.” Jiang was sentenced to life imprisonment in Shanghai in 1987 on allegations that he conspired to purchase weapons in order to reroute a plane to Taiwan. In 1993, he was certified as having a mental illness and released on medical parole. His parole was revoked in 1999. Jiang is now scheduled for release in 2024.