SAN FRANCISCO (May 18, 2009) – Liu Zhihua (刘智华), the last-known prisoner serving a sentence for “hooliganism” committed during the spring 1989 protests, was released in January 2009 from Loudi Prison (娄底监狱) in Hunan Province after receiving a two-year sentence reduction in December 2008, according to information received late last week from a reliable source in China.
Liu, who was 24 years old at the time, was among a group of workers who organized a strike at the Xiangtan Electrical Machinery Works in June 1989 to protest the suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing. The strike at the large state-owned enterprise of more than 10,000 employees was one of the largest industrial labor actions of the 1989 protests and also a highly charged political event because Xiangtan is the hometown of Chairman Mao Zedong.
Four leaders of the group known as the Xiangtan Workers Autonomous Federation were given heavy sentences for hooliganism, a vaguely defined offense that was removed from China’s criminal law in 1997. Liu Zhihua was given a life sentence, as were Peng Shi (彭实) and Liu Jian (刘健). Chen Gang (陈刚), originally sentenced to death with two-year reprieve, had his sentence commuted and then reduced on several occasions before he was finally released in 2004 after 15 years’ imprisonment. Like Chen, Peng Shi was released after several reductions in 2004. (Dui Hua has been unable to obtain information about Liu Jian despite repeated attempts to do so. Based on information received late last week, the foundation has concluded that he is not currently imprisoned in Hunan Province.)
According to media accounts at the time of his arrest, Liu Zhihua incited crowds with anti-government speeches. His life sentence was commuted in September 1993 and he was given a new sentence of 15 years, lengthened by five years in January 1997 for fighting. In 2001, after renewed international interest in his case, he was given a two-year sentence reduction, followed eight years later by another two-year reduction. Most of Liu’s sentence was served in Longxi Prison, which was consolidated with Loudi Prison in 2001. He also served two seven-day stretches of punitive solitary confinement: one in 2003 for resisting labor assignments and a second in 2005 for resisting labor assignments and having a poor attitude. As with most political prisoners, upon his release Liu’s political rights will be suspended. For five years his ability to leave Xiangtan will be restricted and he will be prohibited from giving interviews, among other restrictions.
It is possible that other prisoners convicted of hooliganism remain in prison for their involvement in the 1989 disturbances. However, Liu Zhihua is the last one about whom the Chinese government has regularly released information in human rights dialogues with other governments and bodies like the International Labor Organization. At least three prisoners are still serving sentences for counterrevolutionary crimes committed during the 1989 protests. (Counterrevolution was also removed from the criminal code in 1997.) With news of Liu’s release, Dui Hua has updated its list of June Fourth prisonersknown or suspected to be still incarcerated and maintains its estimate of 30 individuals still imprisoned for crimes committed during the 1989 protests.
“According to Dui Hua’s records,” said Executive Director John Kamm, “Liu Zhihua was the last leader of an autonomous workers federation—independent labor unions set up during the spring 1989 protests— serving a prison sentence. His release brings closer the day when no one in China is serving a sentence for offenses committed on or around June 4, 1989.”
The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
May 18, 2009