Wall Street Journal: Last Known Tiananmen Prisoner to Be Released This Year, Human Rights Group Says

The Wall Street Journal
May 3, 2016 4:07 pm HKT

■ Even as China’s government amplifies efforts to silence a new generation of dissidents, its fight against an older generation may soon come to a symbolic end.

Miao Deshun, the last known person still in prison for crimes related to the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests, is due to be released in October after being granted a sentence reduction, according to a San Francisco-based human-rights group that advocates on behalf of Chinese prisoners.

The Dui Hua Foundation learned about Mr. Miao’s impending release after it submitted a request to the Chinese government for an update on his situation earlier this year, the group said in a statement released on Tuesday.

People attend an annual candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in
Hong Kong, China June 4, 2015 to mark Beijing’s Tiananmen
Square crackdown in 1989. Photo: Reuters

More than 1,600 Chinese citizens were sentenced to prison in the wake of the bloody June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and their supporters that was beamed onto television sets around the world. Mr. Miao’s punishment came two months after the soldiers crushed the protest movement; a Beijing court found him guilty of arson for throwing a basket on a burning tank.

He was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, which was later commuted to life in prison. He has cut off contact with his family, according to human rights groups, but former fellow prisoners have said he stood out for refusing to do prison labor or express regret over his participation in the protests. For a while, rumors circulated that he might have died.

Mr. Miao, now 51 years old, suffers from hepatitis B and schizophrenia and was transferred in 2003 to Beijing’s Yanqing Prison, known for housing sick and disabled prisoners, according to Dui Hua.

“We welcome this news, and express the hope that he will receive the care he needs to resume a normal life after spending more than half of it behind bars,” Dui Hua founder John Kamm said in the statement.

A statue of the Goddess of Democracy is displayed outside
the China Liaison Office during a pro-democracy protest in
Hong Kong, China May 31, 2015, four days before the 26th
anniversary of the military crackdown on the pro-democracy
movement at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Photo: Reuters

Mr. Miao’s sentence had been reduced twice previously, once in 1998 and again in 2012, according to Dui Hua. The most recent reduction came after he was cited for good behavior, the group said.

Mr. Miao’s family could not be reached. A person answering the phone at Yanqing Prison declined to comment, telling China Real Time, “Your identity is a little unusual. I can’t confirm this news for you.”

Fellow Tiananmen prisoners released before Mr. Miao have walked varying paths, some harder than others. A number of protest leaders, including Wang Juntao and Wang Dan, made their way overseas after relatively brief prison stays. Another leader, Chen Ziming, lived under close watch in Beijing until his death in 2014.

Yet another Tiananmen activist, Li Wangyang, died under suspicious circumstances in a hospital a year after his 2011 release. His death touched off protests in Hong Kong in which thousands of peoplemarched silently through the city’s downtown area, some wearing white mourning clothes.

Although the fight is now largely being fought through social media, the Tiananmen protests and their brutal suppression continue to exert an influence on members of China’s dissident community and on the government’s efforts to silence them.

Determined not to let another protest movement gather steam, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been aggressive in preemptively crushing activist networks — even relatively moderate ones — that threaten to coalesce into any form of organized opposition. Many younger activists, meanwhile, describe getting interested in activism after being exposed to the people and ideals that drove the protests, even if their own goals are more modest than the full-scale political change students sought then.

China Real Time encountered one such activist outside a funeral service for Chen Ziming a year and a half ago. She had come to pay her respects, she said, because “the beliefs he wrote about in his essays are the same as my beliefs.”

– Josh Chin. Follow him on Twitter @joshchin.

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