Thu, Jan 05, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Beijing releases jailed dissident journalist a year early

POLITICAL PRISONER Jiang Weiping was let go after serving five years of a six-year sentence, in a move some see as paving the way for a visit to the US by Hu Jintao

AP AND AFP , BEIJING

An imprisoned Chinese journalist whose release was sought by the US government has been freed ahead of a trip to the US by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), a US-based activist announced yesterday.

Jiang Weiping (姜維平), 50, was released on Tuesday from the Nanguanling Prison in the northeastern city of Dalian after the final year of his six-year sentence on subversion charges was commuted, said John Kamm, executive director of the Duihua Foundation in San Francisco.

In response to the release Jiang's wife, Stella Lee (李艷玲) said, "I hope I can see him soon, that he can come here to join us."

Lee was speaking by telephone from Toronto, where she and the couple's 16-year-old daughter have lived for the past two years.

Jiang will need a passport to leave China and the procedure should be straightforward, according to the Duihua Foundation.

"Because the sentence was commuted -- that is, he was not granted parole -- Jiang may apply for a passport to join his wife and daughter in Canada," Duihua said in a statement.

Lee said her husband is currently with the family of his sister-in-law near Dalian, hoping to relax and receive a medical check-up.

Kamm said he didn't know the reason for the early release.

However, Hu is due to visit the US early this year, and Beijing frequently releases prominent prisoners in connection with such high-level contacts with foreign governments.

The government of US President George W. Bush had appealed for Jiang's release.

"It could be related to preparations for Hu Jintao's visit," Kamm said by phone from San Francisco. "Certainly the US has been saying some gestures are needed, because we haven't had any recently."

There was no immediate comment from the US State Department on Jiang's release.

China hasn't freed another prominent prison inmate since its best-known Muslim activist, Rebiya Kadeer, was released last March and allowed to leave for the US.

Jiang was sentenced in June 2001 after writing articles for a Hong Kong magazine in 1999 accusing the governor of the northeastern province of Liaoning of covering up corruption.

The governor, Bo Xilai (薄熙來), is currently China's commerce minister.

A court later cut Jiang's sentence from eight to six years, and it was to have run until January next year.

Jiang was convicted under China's vague state secrets law, which has been used recently against other journalists.

"I think we have to be a bit guarded here, given all the journalists who have been put behind bars in recent months," Kamm said.

"It may be that someone somewhere has decided that it must be shown the system can show a little leniency now and then," he said.

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