This post was originally published as part of Dui Hua’s This Month in History series in its August 2014 Digest.

Dui Hua uncovered one of its earliest cases shortly after it was established to find the names of political prisoners through open-source research. After Dui Hua became operational in August 1999, Dui Hua founder and Executive Director John Kamm traveled to a library in Hong Kong to look through provincial newspapers, believing them to be a rich source of information for prisoner information. However, hours of scouring through rows of newspapers yielded no findings.

Discouraged and tired, Kamm wandered through the vast library until he came across a large collection of public security and court records published in mainland China. He picked up a copy of the 1997 Shanghai Public Security Yearbook (1997上海公安志) and discovered a number of hitherto unknown cases, including that of Jiang Cunde (蒋存德).

Jiang was a labor leader from Shanghai who called for the establishment of an independent trade union modeled after Poland’s Solidarity. In 1987, police arrested Jiang and two of his friends for allegedly plotting to hijack a plane bound for Taiwan. Jiang was sentenced to life in prison on charges of “counterrevolutionary sabotage” and illegal possession of weapons. Since discovering Jiang Cunde’s name, Dui Hua has repeatedly inquired about him on prisoner lists submitted to interlocutors in the Chinese government. We learned that Jiang was released on medical parole in 1993 due to schizophrenia but was rearrested after becoming politically active again in 1999. His life sentence was commuted to a 20 year fixed-term sentence in August 2004, and he is believed to remain in prison, suffering from psychotic episodes.

The discovery of profiles like that of Jiang Cunde in legal yearbooks was a breakthrough in Dui Hua’s advocacy work on behalf of political prisoners. Since then, Dui Hua has uncovered and documented the names of more than 30,000 prisoners and has helped hundreds of previously unknown prisoners obtain better treatment and clemency.