Thu, Mar 16, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Elderly dissident released ahead of Hu's visit to US

AFP , BEIJING

China has freed the oldest jailed member of a banned political party in another release of a dissident ahead of President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) planned visit to Washington next month, a US-based dissident said yesterday.

Tong Shidong (佟適冬) , 72, a retired physics professor and China Democracy Party member, was released on March 9 from Chishan Prison in Hunan, said Xu Wenli (徐文立), an exiled member of the organization.

"His health seems okay," Xu said. "Friends took him out to a meal. He wants to have a low-profile. For him to be released early is already not easy. And since he's also up in age, he doesn't want any problems."

Tong was freed about three years ahead of his original release date on June 9, 2009.

He is one of several political prisoners released early this year, leading some rights group to believe the Chinese government is trying to make a goodwill gesture or present a positive image of Hu ahead of his US trip.

The trip will be Hu's first state visit to the US as president.

Tong was arrested in June 1999 and sentenced to 10 years in jail on subversion charges for helping to establish a branch of the China Democratic Party at Hunan University.

The party was set up by a group of democracy activists in the late 1990s, but many members were imprisoned after it tried to register as a legal entity in 1998.

About 30 members of the party remain in jail, Xu said, adding five or six had been freed in recent years following intense lobbying from the US government and human rights groups.

Meanwhile another activist is about to be deported from the US back to China, where he faces severe punishment for his involvement in a banned democracy party, a rights group said.

Shi Jun, who has lived in the US since 1994, has been told he could be deported any time, the US-based Free China Movement and Shi's friends said.

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