SAN FRANCISCO, CA (August 6, 2007) – Hu Shigen (胡石根), one of China’s last remaining dissidents imprisoned for “counterrevolution,” was given a 17-month sentence reduction by a Beijing court earlier this year, The Dui Hua Foundation has learned from reliable sources.

The February 2007 sentence reduction—only the second adjustment ever made to Hu’s original 20-year sentence—follows a December 2005 reduction of seven months that came three weeks after being interviewed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak. During their November 2005 meeting, Hu Shigen informed Nowak that he had resisted pressure to confess any wrongdoing until April 2003, when a feeling of helplessness and a desire to receive a sentence reduction finally led him to do so.

Confession of guilt by prisoners is seen as an important component of rehabilitation under the Chinese prison system, and prison authorities regularly use incentives such as expanded privileges or the promise of early release to encourage prisoner confessions. In the report on his mission to China, Nowak was critical of this element of China’s penal system, describing it as part of a regime of punishment aimed at creating “submissiveness and a ‘culture of fear’” incompatible with a culture of human rights.

“It is very unusual for a prisoner to receive two sentence reductions in such a short period of time, and we believe the timing of the reductions is significant,” says John Kamm, executive director of The Dui Hua Foundation. “For one, it demonstrates that the Chinese authorities can work productively with UN human rights mechanisms on specific cases. It also creates a momentum for additional reductions and the possibility that Hu Shigen could be released before next year’s Beijing Olympics.”

Hu Shigen has been incarcerated since May 1992, when he was detained along with eight other Beijing-based activists in connection with efforts to organize an opposition political party, establish an independent labor union, and commemorate the third anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations. The Beijing Intermediate People’s Court convicted Hu of “organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group” and “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement” on June 14, 1995, and handed down the longest fixed-term sentence possible under Chinese law—20 years’ imprisonment with subsequent deprivation of political rights for five years. Hu’s co-defendants have all been released from prison already, several of them the beneficiaries of multiple sentence reductions. After the reductions, Hu is due to be released from Beijing Number Two Prison on May 26, 2010.

The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
August 6, 2007