Beijing Prison Watch Treatment of Fasting Activists Arouses Growing Concern
Ann Scott Tyson, Writer of the Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
IT was Aug. 13. Wang Juntao, surrounded by four or five guards, was led into the visitors' room of the Beijing No. 2 Prison in the southern outskirts of the capital.
Mr. Wang looked pallid, a gaunt likeness of the heavyset activist who helped guide China's spring 1989 democracy movement. He was just 22 months into a 13-year jail term for "conspiring to subvert the government."
The dimly lit, 6-foot-square cell at the No. 2 Prison where he had lived in solitary confinement since April was infested with insects. The only fittings were a wooden plank on the floor for a bed, an open latrine, and a tap that provided water for brief periods each day.
Wang, who suffers from a liver ailment, said prison officials had denied him proper care. His voice was agitated, angry.
"I have lost hope that prison officials will improve conditions for me," a Chinese source quoted Wang as saying. Scores of requests for better treatment had brought Wang no action, "like a stone dropped into the sea," the source said.
Later that day, Wang began a hunger strike. His fellow activist and prison mate, Chen Ziming, began a sympathetic fast the next day. Despite public denials by prison officials, Chinese sources close to Wang's family believe he is still refusing food.
Foreign pressure is mounting on China's leaders to free Wang, Chen, and other political prisoners jailed after the June 4, 1989 crackdown. Last week, two groups of United States lawmakers and British Prime Minister John Major raised the cases of Wang and Mr. Chen during meetings with Chinese officials in Beijing.
A nine-member US delegation led by congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D) of California concluded that China's abuse of human rights is "worsening." The delegation had appealed for the release of Wang, Chen, and all other dissidents jailed for joining the 1989 protests. Its request to visit Wang and Chen in jail was denied.
The negative publicity clearly annoys Beijing. Since mid-August, it has published three articles responding to accusations that Wang and Chen are being mistreated.
Although the government reports were distorted, calling solitary confinement a form of "revolutionary humanism," they confirmed that both men are ill and have begun hunger strikes. In the past, Beijing has rarely divulged details about political prisoners.
But while China's hard-liners could bow to international pressure by easing the abuse of Wang and Chen in jail, they are sure to reject demands for amnesty for the two men jailed as the "black hands" behind a "counter-revolutionary rebellion," Beijing's term for the 1989 protests, Chinese dissidents say. …