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After more than twelve years, Liu Jingsheng has been released from prison in China. Mr. Liu was jailed in May 1992. He was convicted in a secret trial in 1994 for what the Chinese government terms "counterrevolutionary" activities. Although the law making so-called "counterrevolution" a crime was repealed in 1997, many of those convicted under this law remain in prison.

Mr. Liu's activities included writing and printing political leaflets during the third anniversary of the 1989 demonstrations at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Mr. Liu, now fifty, has long spoken out for freedom in China. As early as the Democracy Wall movement of 1978 and 1979, he helped edit a pro-democracy journal called "Tansuo," or "Explorations."

The release of Liu Jingsheng is welcome news. But it also calls attention to the many democracy activists, labor leaders, journalists, and others still jailed in China for political purposes. They include numerous people arrested in connection with the Tiananmen protests. The peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations were crushed by the Chinese army in June 1989. Every year since then, people in China have been arrested for trying to commemorate the Tiananmen events.

If China is to continue to make progress, its government will have to start respecting the rights of the Chinese people in accordance with internationally accepted norms. Adam Ereli, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman, discussed these rights:

"The right of people to participate in government decisions that affect their lives, the right of people to have a say in who leads them. To live in a nation governed by law, and to be able to speak and write freely, to express their views without persecution."

All such prisoners of conscience -- not just Liu Jingsheng -- deserve to be freed. As Vice President Dick Cheney told a Chinese audience in Shanghai earlier this year, "The desire for freedom is universal. . . . And it is something that successful societies. . .have learned to embrace, rather than fear."