One of China’s best-known democracy activists has been released from prison on medical parole. On December 24th, Xu Wenli [shoe-one-lee] was allowed to fly to the United States for treatment of serious liver disease. He had spent more than sixteen of the last twenty-one years in Chinese prisons.
The release of Xu Wenli came a few days after a visit to China by Lorne Craner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The U.S. had long called on China to release Mr. Xu, along with others imprisoned for nothing more than working peacefully for human rights and democracy. Chinese officials also agreed to take other steps toward more respect for human rights.
“For the first time,” said Mr. Craner, “China agreed to extend immediately unconditional invitations to the [United Nations] Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. China has also pledged to immediately reissue an invitation, without conditions, to the U-N Special Rapporteur on Torture. These steps are significant,” he said, “because in taking them, Chinese officials have acknowledged that their human rights practices fall short of international standards.”
Xu Wenli first began to call on the Chinese government to respect human rights standards in the late 1970s. As one of the leaders of Beijing’s “Democracy Wall” movement, he used wall posters and other means to try to open up a dialogue on reform. For speaking out, Xu Wenli spent twelve years in prison, before being released in 1993.
In the mid-1990s, the Chinese government began to allow some political debate. Reform issues were discussed in government, academic, and press circles. In 1998, Xu Wenli and others took the next logical step. They organized a political party to compete with the ruling Communists. But the Chinese government arrested the leaders of the China Democracy Party. After closed trials that violated due process, they were given long prison sentences. Xu Wenli got thirteen years.
It is good news that Xu Wenli has been released. But many people remain imprisoned in China for trying to exercise basic rights. They include such leaders of the China Democracy Party as Qin Yongmin [chin-yong-meen] and Wang Youcai [wong-yo-tsai]. All deserve to be freed.
As Assistant Secretary of State Craner told Chinese students at Xinjiang [syin-jahng] University, governments “must work towards a future of full lives and fulfilled dreams -- a future built on a strong foundation of human rights.”