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Kennedy School of Government graduate Yang Jianli has been imprisoned in China for a year and a half, including seven months in an eight-by-eight-foot cell and fourteen months without being charged nor allowed contact with the outside world. Two and a half months ago, Yang was granted a three-hour closed trial for espionage against the Chinese government. The trial’s verdict, however, was deferred until the end of November—to allow prosecutors to gather further evidence. Meanwhile, nothing has been demonstrated against Yang beyond his possession of fake papers and his propensity to lionize democracy.
China must cease to treat Yang—and the many other prisoners whose unjust incarcerations foul its human rights record—in such cruel and unusual ways for this era of human history. No concrete evidence against Yang has materialized, and yet he has already incurred significant punishment; while here in Cambridge his wife and eight-year-old son endure excruciating and interminable uncertainty as to his fate. Yang and many other prisoners of the Chinese government have not been proven guilty on criminal charges yet have been held captive in unjustifiably harsh conditions for extended periods—a clear violation of human rights laws.
Apart from his possession of false documents—a passport belonging to someone else, without which Yang would not have been allowed into China—the Chinese government’s case rests entirely on Yang’s vocal enthusiasm for democracy. China’s imprisonment of a supporter of democracy demonstrates that while China may be more open to the West than it was in decades past, it has yet to adopt fundamental human rights. China must learn that opinions cannot be punished.
Last week, 36 members of the House of Representatives wrote President Bush a letter, urging him to call on Chinese President Hu Jintao to release Yang. Bush should not ignore Yang’s case for diplomatic or economic reasons—as the U.S. did when it, for the first time in years, did not introduce a resolution criticizing China at the 2003 session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The U.S. President, as leader of the free world, has an obligation to protect human rights and demand proper treatment of the accused. As Yang awaits his long-deferred verdict, Bush should do just that.
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