The State Department said this week it is investigating reports that Kennedy School of Government graduate and pro-democracy activist Yang Jianli has been physically abused in the Beijing prison where he has been held for almost two years.
Yang was moved last month to solitary confinement where he was handcuffed, prevented from exercising and denied access to reading materials and his lawyer, according to his wife, Harvard Medical School researcher Christina X. Fu.
The handcuffs were not removed until Yang’s hands were bloody and infected, Fu said. Mo Shaoping, Yang’s lawyer, said his client’s hands were still bruised and swollen when he visited him in prison last week.
The State Department said it is investigating the allegations of abuse and trying to secure Yang’s release.
“We are seeking further information about his situation,” said State Department spokesperson Jeffrey M. Jamison.
“We continue to communicate our concerns to the Chinese and urge them to release Dr. Yang.”
But efforts on behalf of Yang have been complicated by a recent breakdown in human rights dialogue between China and the United States.
China suspended official communications after the United States introduced a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission last month criticizing China’s human rights record. The commission decided not to approve the resolution.
“The Chinese side cannot but immediately halt bilateral human rights dialogue and exchanges,” Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Shen Guofang said last month.
Jamison said the United States will continue to press for Yang’s release through informal channels.
“This is a message we will continue to convey in meetings with the Chinese, whether or not the formal U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue resumes,” he said.
The Chinese Embassy declined to comment yesterday about Yang.
The allegations of abuse come almost two years after Yang’s arrest in Kunming for entering the country using false identificationon on April 26, 2002. He had been banned from China following his involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.
Yang was tried in Chinese court last August on charges of espionage and visa violations. A verdict was supposed to be issued by December.
But more than eight months after the trial, a verdict has not been issued—in violation of Chinese law, according to Fu.
Yang planned a hunger strike in March to protest his detention without a verdict, but he decided against the idea when he heard that his wife opposed the plan.
“I told him not to do that and that his health was more important,” Fu said. “We are going to be together for many years and he needs to stay strong.”
Instead of a hunger strike, Yang decided to protest by refusing to comply with prison regulations.
He refused to fold his blanket in the morning, wear an orange vest that was part of his uniform or respond when referred to by his identification number—K066—instead of his name, Fu said.
Prison officials responded to this protest with the alleged mistreatment, according to Mo and Fu.
Fu and her two children—eight-year-old Aaron and 11-year-old Anita—are in Washington, D.C. this week to commemorate the two-year anniversary of Yang’s arrest in a ceremony Monday on Capitol Hill.
Yang’s two children are on spring break this week, but will miss two days of school next week while in Washington.
Fu said she was moved that her daughter Anita—whom she describes as a “very good student”—was willing to miss school to support her father.
“Everybody has to sacrifice,” Fu said. “She hasn’t had a lot of time to develop a relationship with her dad, but she still wanted to do everything she could to help.”
—Jannie S. Tsuei contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Amit R. Paley can be reached at email@example.com.