Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) is seeking the release of cyberdissident Yang Jianli, a resident of the United States, who on 26 April 2004 will be marking two years in prison in China.
His wife Christina Fu and their two children, backed by US Congressmen Chris Cox (Republican) and Barney Frank (Democrat), will use the occasion to hold a press conference in Washington to demand his release.
Reporters Without Borders fully supports this initiative and called on the President of the European Parliament Pat Cox, to add his weight to the plea to free Yang.
"China takes offence at a US resolution to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, but immediately totally discredits itself, with cases like that of Yang Jianli," said the international press freedom organisation.
"Improvements in human rights in China are not measured by speeches but by releasing political prisoners," it added.
Reporters Without Borders considers, as the organisation stressed in its letter to Pat Cox, that the European Union has a duty, within a constructive dialogue with the Chinese authorities, to press for the release of prisoners of opinion.
Some 35 members of the US Congress have already signed a petition for the release of Yang. A letter has also been sent to Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry, who is also a senator in Massachusetts, Yang’s home state.
The 26 April press conference in Washington will also be used to expose Yang’s appalling prison conditions.
He was put in an isolation cell on 15 March 2004 where he remained handcuffed for a week. He was not allowed newspapers, television or physical exercise. His requests to see his lawyer had been refused. These sanctions were imposed three days after he refused to wear his prison uniform, make his bed and reply to roll call with his prison number. The cyberdissident demanded to be called by his name.
On 21 March, Yang agreed to obey the prison rules but warders left him handcuffed until his wrists were bleeding.
When Yang said at the beginning of March that he planned to go on hunger strike to protest against his illegal detention, the authorities told him he would be force fed, after which he relented.
When he was put in solitary confinement, one of the prosecutors in charge of his file visited him. Yang sought to complain to him about his "ill-treatment" but was told by the prosecutor, "You cannot. This treatment has been approved by the prosecutor’s office."
When his Chinese lawyer Mo Shaoping asked to see his client, the authorities told him that everything was OK and that Yang did not wish to see him. They were only able to meet on 14 April after a wait of almost one month.
The background :
Yang Jianli was editor in chief of the dissident online review Yibao (www.chinaeweekly.com). He was arrested on 26 April 2002 while he was secretly investigating strikes by workers in north-eastern China. He was returning to the country for the first time since he was expelled for taking part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
Arrested officially for "absence of a valid passport", Yang was charged on 17 July 2003 with "illegally entering Chinese territory" and "spying for Taiwan".
After being held secretly for one year, he was tried in August 2003 and the verdict was deferred. Under the Chinese criminal code, the authorities then had four months to hand down his sentence. Once this deadline passed his continued detention became illegal.