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China 4 November 2004

Cyber-dissident He Depu begins third year in prison

Reporters Without Borders today deplored the continued imprisonment of Chinese cyber-dissident He Depu, arrested at his Beijing home two years ago today (on 4 November 2002) for signing an open letter to the ruling Communist Party congress (which was posted on the Internet) calling for democratic reforms. Six other signatories were jailed in the weeks that followed.

"Since this crackdown the regime has steadily increased its censorship of the Internet and stepped up pressure on Internet users," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

The seven arrested cyber-dissidents - who also included Zhao Changqing, Sang Jiancheng, Dai Xuezhong, Han Lifa, Jiang Lijun and Ouyang Yi - were among 192 dissidents who signed the letter on the eve of the 16th party congress. The activists regularly posted their ideas and opinions online.

Their letter appealed for six reforms, among them political rehabilitation of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, the right of political exiles to return from abroad, the release of jailed political prisoners including Zhao Ziyang, ratification by the National People’s Congress (parliament) of the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and the holding of free elections.

He Depu, a member of the banned China Democracy Party and author of many online articles, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment on 6 November 2003. He reportedly suffers from high blood pressure which gives him headaches and dizziness. He is only allowed to exercise twice a week in the prison courtyard. His wife, Jia Jiangying, was able to visit him on 9 October 2004.

Ouyang Yi, who set up a pro-democracy website in July 2002, was arrested on 4 December that year for the fifth time in six years and sentenced to two years in prison on 16 March 2004 for "inciting subversion." He is due for release this December.

Jiang Lijun, an energetic online democracy activist, was arrested on 6 November 2002 and given a four-year prison sentence on 4 November 2003.

Sang Jiancheng, a retired manual worker, was arrested on 10 November 2002 for writing an online article denouncing corruption in the Communist Party and was jailed for three years on 6 January 2004.

Zhao Changqing was arrested on 4 November 2002 for signing the letter to the party congress. He was elected to parliament in 1997 but was then arrested and jailed for three years for supposedly threatening national security. He was not released until 2001.

Dai Xuezhong was arrested in mid-November 2002 for signing the letter. A member of the banned Shanghai Human Rights Association, he had previously been jailed for three years for his political activities.

Han Lifa, a mechanic and longtime political activist, was arrested on 26 December 2002 for the same reason. He had previously been sentenced three times, twice to three years of "community work" and once to nine months in prison. He was freed in July 2001.

62 people are in prison in China for setting up independent websites or for posting material online criticising the regime.

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