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China Frees More Political Prisoners, But Abuse Lingers

A MID the recent releases of some prominent Chinese activists, the wife of dissident Wang Juntao has called for international pressure to win his freedom.

Hou Xiaotian has urged the United States to make a specific appeal for the release of her husband, who is imprisoned for thirteen years for his role in the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

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Mr. Wang suffers from heart and liver disease and has threatened to go on a hunger strike on June 4, the anniversary of the Army suppression of the 1989 protests, if he is not released on bail for medical treatment and given the right of appeal.

"This hunger strike is very dangerous," she said in a Monitor interview. "I hope the US government will make my husband's case a special one, because his health is deteriorating."

Ms. Hou's urging comes as the Chinese government is reportedly ready to free one of its longest-held political prisoners, Xu Wenli. Mr. Xu has been kept in solitary confinement for 12 years for his involvement in China's Democracy Wall Movement of 1978-79.

Hong Kong human rights activist John Kamm and Western diplomats say Xu, a former electrician who edited the underground journal April 5 Forum and called for political change within the Communist system, will likely be released three years before the end of his 15-year sentence.

China has also confirmed the early release of Roman Catholic Bishop Wang Milu, jailed since 1983 and due to be freed in 1994.

Chinese political prisoners are being released in an effort by China to forestall US trade sanctions and win international backing for Beijing's bid to host the Summer Olympics in the year 2000, diplomats and human rights activists say.

President Clinton, who called for tougher action against Chinese human rights abuses during his presidential campaign, is expected to renew China's most-favored nation trading status this year, but attach conditions in June 1994 if Beijing's human rights record doesn't improve. He is also expected to seek reductions in Chinese arms sales and in its trade surplus with the US.

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UT even as some well-known Chinese go free, human rights groups and family members warn that oppression continues and thousands remain in jail. Last week, the Tibetan Information Network, Amnesty International, and Campaign for Tibet charged that Chinese authorities detained dozens of Tibetans to prevent a meeting with European Community diplomats visiting Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.

Another Tiananmen Square activist, Liu Gang, has accused prison authorities in Liaoning Province of torture and humiliation in a prison letter smuggled out by his relatives. He is also seeking a transfer to a hospital or parole for better medical care.

Earlier this month, the New York-based group Human Rights in China said that dissident Qin Yongmin was arrested for protesting Beijing's efforts to host the Olympics. Mr. Qin, who was in jail for seven years for helping organize the Democracy Wall movement, contends that China can't afford the cost of the Games, the organization said.

Despite their calls for more pressure, the flurry of releases has given the families of Wang Juntao and other dissidents some hope. In recent months, Wang was taken temporarily from his prison to a Beijing hospital and briefly received better medical care, his wife said.

In 1991, hunger strikes by Wang and fellow dissident Chen Ziming won international attention and better care. "One pays for each step of progress," she said.

Since her own imprisonment in 1990 for five months, Hou has unsuccessfully sought a passport to travel to the US. But she is unsure if she will leave.

"Things are changing now in China, and I'm not sure if I will leave," she said. "My husband thinks the Chinese people have their conscience and know how to respect human rights."

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