Beijing, Oct. 10 (Reuters): Chinese dissident Chen Ziming, labelled a “black hand” behind-the-scenes organiser of 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, ended 13 years in jail and under tight house arrest today.
It was not immediately clear whether Chen was yet a free man as he had bureaucratic procedures to go through.
“Today is definitely the day” his sentence ends, a relative said. “He should be getting back his residence permit,” the basic document which allows Chinese to function, the relative said.
Arrested shortly after the ill-fated demonstrations, Chen was sentenced to 13 years in jail in 1991 for “counter-revolutionary” activities in 1989.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of protesters and Beijing residents were killed when Chinese troops and tanks advanced into the square on the night of June 3-4, 1989, to crush the movement. Chen, 50, was not immediately available for comment. “Once that’s done he will consider the next step,” another relative said.
In the 1980s, Chen and colleague Wang Juntao headed a progressive, private think tank called the Beijing Social and Economic Sciences Research Institute. With other sympathetic intellectuals they gave advice and organisational support to student protesters in 1989.
After the protests were crushed, a warrant was issued for the two men’s arrest and police nabbed both that October.
“I don’t know of anyone who has been in jail longer,” Jeffrey Wasserstrom, an Indiana University specialist on protests in China, said of Chen.
Chen won medical parole in 1994 in a move widely seen as a successful bid by Beijing to prevent Washington from revoking China’s Most Favoured Nation trade status on grounds of human rights violations.
Human rights have been a persistent irritant in Sino-US ties strained by trade disputes, arms proliferation and Taiwan. US diplomats had brought up Chen’s case frequently in talks with Chinese counterparts.
In 1994, his colleague Wang was also released and sent to the US for medical examination. He is now pursuing a Ph.D. at Columbia University.
Chen, however, was thrown back in jail in June 1995 after joining calls on the Communist Party to release political prisoners and reverse its verdict that the Tiananmen Square protests were seditious.
In November 1996, he was freed from jail once again for medical treatment but was held under strict house arrest since then, unable to leave the building.
He has been treated for cancer, heart disease and hepatitis, and suffers from several other ailments. But one of the relatives said Chen’s health was “not bad”.
China has emasculated the remnants of the domestic democracy movement in the years since the 1989 crackdown by arranging for high-profile dissidents to leave the country on medical parole.
“I think, in retrospect, the government’s had considerable success in neutralising people by having them leave the country,” Wasserstrom said. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they made it easy for him to leave,” he said of Chen.
Among those who have left besides Wang Juntao were student leader Wang Dan and long-time pro-democracy activist Wei Jingsheng.
Wang Juntao said Chen turned down the chance to go to the US after his release in 1996 and said he was unlikely to opt to leave China if given the choice again.
“He wants to stay there because it’s our motherland,” Wang said by telephone from New Jersey. “I think his situation will certainly improve after the sentence, but I don’t think he will have opportunities to take any political action,” Wang said. “I feel happy for him.”