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Thirty-six members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter to President George W. Bush Thursday, urging him to advocate the release of jailed dissident Yang Jianli in a meeting with the president of China during his current Asian tour.
Jianli, a Kennedy School of Government (KSG) graduate, has been detained by the Chinese government for the past 19 months. He was arrested for traveling under false documents during a visit to China in April 2002 and has not been allowed any contact with his family or the outside world since.
The letter, spearheaded by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., maintains that “the length and degree of punishment” inflicted on Jianli “has already far exceeded his transgression.”
“We greatly appreciate the efforts of the State Department in pressing for Dr. Yang’s release, but we fear at this point that without your direct intercession...Dr. Yang will continue to suffer for nothing more than his love of democracy,” they wrote Bush.
The representatives suggested Bush broach the issue at an Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that he and Chinese President Hu Jintao attended today.
Jianli, a pro-democracy activist who has been banned from China for over a decade, was detained as he tried to leave China following a week’s illicit travel there.
Christina X. Fu, Jianli’s wife and a Harvard Medical School researcher, has organized letter-writing campaigns and lobbied local and national officials on her husband’s behalf.
In recent months, the Senate and the House passed resolutions calling for Jianli’s release, and in June the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Jianli was being held in violation of international law.
Jianli was tried in a Beijing Court on Aug. 4, but the three-hour hearing was closed to the public. He was charged with espionage and illegally entering China, and could face up to a life sentence.
A verdict is expected in late November, since the prosecution has asked for more time to collect evidence against Jianli.
“During the first year of his detention, Dr. Yang Jianli was not only held incommunicado and in solitary confinement, but we just learned he was not allowed to exercise outside his cell, was denied access to all reading materials, and was interrogated by [People’s Republic of China] authorities over 100 times,” said Jared Genser, a legal advisor to Jianli’s family and also a KSG graduate. “Collectively, this treatment qualifies as torture under international law.”
Fu said the family has been reassured by Jianli’s lawyer in Beijing, the only outsider allowed to meet with him.
Fu said her two children, 8-year-old Aaron and 11-year-old Anita, are very anxious to see their father. “I keep telling them it will be very soon.”
In the meantime, they have been sending Jianli postcards, as per his lawyer’s suggestion, since sealed letters are out of the question.
—Staff writer Romina Garber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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