China Tries Dissident Out of View
Philip P. Pan, Washington Post , August 5, 2003
BEIJING, Aug. 4 -- A Chinese dissident who returned to his homeland using a false passport after 13 years in exile in the United States was tried on espionage charges in Beijing today. The court adjourned without delivering a verdict after a three-hour hearing behind closed doors, his attorney said.
Yang Jianli, 40, a permanent resident of the United States who lives in Brookline, Mass., was detained in April 2002 while traveling across China to meet with disgruntled workers who participated in protests, and with other activists. In the 17 months since his arrest, Chinese authorities have allowed him to see his attorney only three times and prevented relatives from visiting.
The case has attracted an unusual degree of attention in the United States, where Yang earned doctorates from Harvard and the University of California, and where his wife and two young children are citizens. The Bush administration has repeatedly raised Yang's case with Chinese officials, and both the House and the Senate unanimously passed resolutions urging his release.
A U.N. committee also criticized Yang's detention as a violation of international human rights standards.
"We see this trial as a key test of the Chinese leadership under Hu Jintao," the new Chinese president, said Jared Genser, an attorney for Yang's wife. He said that Chinese officials had indicated privately that there was a struggle within the government about how to handle the case.
Yang, who runs a foundation in Boston that advocates democratic reform in China, pleaded not guilty during a trial in the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court, said his attorney, Mo Shaoping. A verdict is expected within a month, said Mo, who declined to discuss details of the case.
Police originally charged Yang with entering the country illegally, a crime that carries a maximum prison term of one year. But months after his arrest, prosecutors also indicted Yang on espionage charges, alleging that he accepted assignments and financial support from the Nationalist Party, which ruled China before the 1949 Communist revolution and is now based in Taiwan.
Genser said evidence presented today focused on four $100 educational grants given by Yang's foundation in the mid-1990s to young people in China. He said Yang's group receives most of its funding from U.S. and Taiwanese foundations and the Taiwanese government, but none from intelligence agencies.
Yang is the second dissident based in the United States to be tried in China this year on charges of spying for Taiwan. In February, a Chinese court sentenced Wang Bingzhang, a democracy activist based in New York, to life in prison after convicting him of espionage and terrorism. He had disappeared in June 2002 during a trip to Vietnam to meet with Chinese labor activists.
Yang moved to the United States in 1985 for graduate studies in mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley, but returned to China to participate in the 1989 student-led democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. After the Chinese military's violent suppression of the protests, he fled the country and was then banned from returning. He later earned a PhD in political economy at Harvard and started the organization he now leads, the Foundation for China in the 21st Century.
Last year, as worker demonstrations erupted in northeastern China, Yang risked arrest by returning to China to witness events firsthand. His wife, Christina Fu, said he had longed to return to China for years and used a friend's passport because the Chinese government refused to renew his.
"It was a last-minute decision. He really wanted to be in China to help the workers ask for fairness, peacefully and not with violence," she said.
In an interview published in 1998, Yang described the moral quandary of living safely in exile as friends in China were imprisoned. "We often run into a dilemma of conscience," he told the Boston Globe. "I don't feel sad I'm here, but we all want to go home and share the burden, share the suffering with our colleagues. My dream is to contribute to democratization there."
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