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China 23 February 2006

Journalist who was driven mad in prison freed after 16 years

Reporters Without Borders notes the release of arts critic, Yu Dongyue, imprisoned after the June 1989 student demonstrations, who has left jail a broken man, driven mad after being tortured and held for long periods in solitary confinement.

And in an act which the press freedom organisation described as "the last word in cynicism" the authorities have just re-arrested his former student companion, Yu Zhijian, for "subversion".

"We are, of course, pleased to learn that Yu Dongyue is finally free. We hope that he will be able to regain a little serenity in returning to his family, after 16 years of imprisonment, "it said.

"Yu’s physical and psychological state demonstrates the full atrocity of the Chinese prison system, which destroys lives to gag dissident voices," said Reporters Without Borders, calling for the release of the 70 prisoners of opinion still in jail for taking part in the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

Yu Dongyue, now 38, left prison N°1 in Hunan southern China on 22 February and was taken home to Shegang in Hunan, accompanied by his brother, Yu Xiyue.

"He does not recognise me and we cannot understand one another," his brother told Reuters news agency. His mother, Wu Pinghua said on the phone that she was very happy her son was coming home again, but added, "He is mentally ill and it will be a burden to take care of him."

Yu has very serious mental problems after spending at least six months in a cell measuring less than 3 metres square, followed by two years in solitary confinement. He was regularly tortured.

One former fellow inmate, Lu Decheng, said the journalist would kneel down whenever he saw a warden and would lick the ground, covered in people’s spit. He added that warders had tied Yu to an electricity post and left him out in the full sun for several days.

Journalist and art critic on Liuyang News, Yu was sentenced by the Beijing people’s intermediate municipal court to 20 years in prison and five years loss of political rights on 11 July 1989 on charges of "sabotage" and "counter-revolutionary propaganda". On 23 May 1989, he hurled egg shells full of red paint at Mao Zedong’s portrait in Tiananmen Square. The authorities were also displeased by his articles in support of free expression and for his avant-garde opinions on artistic matters.

His sentence was reduced by two years in 2000 after he "sincerely expressed his repentance and his wish to re-educate himself" and a second time by 15 months in 2003. Despite repeated pleas by his family for his release "on medical grounds", the authorities decided in August 2005 to delay his release date to 22 February 2006.

His two friends, Lu Decheng and Yu Zhijian, who were with him on 23 May 1989, had already been freed earlier.

Yu Zhijian has just been rearrested for taking part in a rotating hunger strike in support of a human rights lawyer being threatened by the government. His family has been informed of his arrest and the charge of "subversion" that has been made against him. He had been freed in March 2000 after 11 years in prison.

Lu Decheng, a former bus conductor, is currently being detained in Thailand. He should be able to leave for Canada, on 14 March 2006, under a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement programme, despite repeated calls from the Chinese government for him to be returned to China.

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