US president-elect Barack Obama is under pressure to urge China to free democracy dissident Wang Bingzhang (王炳章) who is serving a life sentence on charges of spying for Taiwan.
Obama, who takes over in the White House next week, is aware of the case and sources close to his top foreign policy advisers said it was under serious consideration.
The Washington Post published an article by Wang’s 19-year-old daughter Ti-Anna Wang on Sunday and the Congressional Record is carrying a 1,000-word statement on the issue.
“Dr Wang’s ordeal bears the markings of so many Chinese dissidents who have been robbed of their freedom and endured severe hardship at the hands of their captors,” said Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia.
Taiwan, the US, Canada, the EU, the UN and Amnesty International have all called on the Chinese government to release Wang.
But if Obama becomes directly involved after taking power he could add a strong new influence.
In her Washington Post article, Wang’s daughter — named Ti-Anna in commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre — said: “Despite China’s economic success, it is still a country that has yet to embrace universally accepted values of human rights. Any government that jails its own people for political dissent still has a long way to go to become a respected member of the international community.”
Wang Bingzhang left China in 1979, moving first to Montreal and later to New York, becoming a founding member of the Chinese overseas democracy movement.
In 2002 he flew to Vietnam to meet two Chinese labor activists when he was kidnapped, beaten, blindfolded and abducted into China by boat. He was left bound and gagged in a Buddhist temple in Guangxi Province for the Chinese authorities to find.
Charged with terrorism and with spying for Taiwan, he was sentenced to life in prison, where he is kept in solitary confinement.
A number of business executives, academics, journalist and political activists with overseas connections have been arrested by China in recent years and accused of committing espionage for Taiwan.
Their cases are generally heard in closed courts where little or no evidence is required for conviction.
Family members who have recently visited Wang Bingzhang in prison say that he is becoming mentally ill, that he has suffered two strokes, has heart problems and a painful skin allergy.
In an address to the US Congress a few days ago Congressman Wolf said: “One thing we learned from president Ronald Reagan in his dealings with the Soviet Union is that it both inspires hope in the oppressed and shames the oppressors when we raise the individual cases of political and religious prisoners like Dr Wang.”
Human Rights Watch, one of the most effective of all the international human rights watchdogs, will issue its annual World Report later this week and is urging the incoming Obama administration to put human rights at the center of foreign, domestic and security policy.
The new 564-page report is likely to contain a scathing review of China’s treatment of political dissidents such as Wang.