Gong Liwen, mother of Li Hai, a human rights activist jailed in 1995 for making public a list of individuals sentenced to prison terms for their participation in the 1989 demonstrations, wrote a letter of appeal to US President George Bush on September 23, 2001, asking him to help get Li Hai out of jail. Below is a brief introduction to Lis case and a translation of Gongs letter.
Li Hai, born in 1954, was a graduate student in philosophy at Beijing University when the 1989 protests began. Li became a leader in the student democracy movement. Following the demonstrations, Li was held without charge for seven months in Beijings Haidian District Detention Center from May to December 1990 for hanging posters around Beijing University campus commemorating the first anniversary of the demonstrations. He was expelled from the university after his release, and was unable to resume his studies or to find employment.
Despite financial difficulties, repeated short periods of detention and police harassment, Li became one of Chinas principal human rights activists. With fellow dissidents Qin Yongmin and Liu Nianchun, Li was one of the nine initiators of the November 1993 Peace Charter, a landmark document aimed at promoting non-violent political reform in China, inspired by the Czechoslovak Charter 77. In May 1995, Li was a signatory of the Draw Lessons from Blood petition which called for a reappraisal of the 1989 demonstrations, as well as an appeal for the abolition of administrative sentences under Reeducation Through Labor.
From 1991 to 1995, Li conducted the most comprehensive effort ever to document the fate of people punished in the government crackdown on the 1989 movement. By building networks and conducting numerous interviews with victims families, Li managed to gather the facts on 800-900 cases, the vast majority of which were individuals whose names had not been known to human rights campaigners. Most of the cases concerned prisoners serving time at Beijing No. 2 Prison and Qinghe Farm. Some of the individuals on his lists had been convicted on counterrevolutionary charges, but most involved common criminal charges, such as arson, disrupting traffic and the catch-all charge of hooliganism. In addition, he helped to collect funds in China and from overseas sources to distribute as financial aid to victims of human rights abuses and their families.
Li documented the fate of ordinary Beijing residents, focusing on those who had received harsher treatment because they were not known to the international community. Li investigated not only the cases of imprisoned students and intellectuals but those of workers, peasants, anyone who was on the streets demonstrating in May-June 1989. The conclusions of Lis investigations pointed to many major miscarriages of justice. One man convicted of stealing weapons had merely picked up a few bullets he had found on the street. It is clear that in the prevailing political climate of the time few, if any, of these individuals received a fair trial.
Li was detained on May 31, 1995, and originally charged with hooliganism. On September 19, 1995, he was formally arrested after 101 days in detention, and charged with the far more serious offense of leaking state secrets. Li was also accused of receiving money from Human Rights In China. He was then detained in the Chaoyang District Detention Center in Beijing. Almost a year later on April 3, 1996, the Beijing Chaoyang District Peoples Court asked Lis family to hire a lawyer.
Lis trial opened on May 31, 1996, at the Beijing Chaoyang District Peoples Court. The lawyer hired by the family challenged the leaking state secrets charge on the grounds that since Li Hai was not a civil servant, he had no access to state secrets. A verdict was not announced until seven months later on December 18, 1996. His family was not allowed to attend the trial because the case dealt with secrets.
The Beijing Chaoyang District Court admitted that the prosecutors charge of leaking state secrets was groundless but ultimately found Li guilty on December 18, 1996, and sentenced him to nine years in prison. The court convicted Li of prying into and gathering the following information about people sentenced for criminal activities during the June 4, 1989, period: name, age, family situation, crime, length of sentence, location of imprisonment, treatment while imprisoned. According to the courts verdict, this information constituted high-level state secrets. Li Hai appealed against the sentence, but his appeal was rejected by the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court on March 13, 1997. Li is currently being detained in Beijing Liangxiang Prison. Lis detention has been judged to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The scope of state secrets in China is extremely broad and arbitrary. For example, according to Ministry of Public Security regulations, virtually all figures on the operation of the criminal justice system may only be published if explicit permission has been granted.
Because Li insists he has committed no crime, he has been denied exercise time and was not allowed to leave his cell in the summer of 1998. He is also prohibited from buying food or receiving food during monthly family visits. Li has suffered from serious medical problems in prison, and has not received appropriate medical treatment. He has sometimes been denied family visits as a punishment. He was allowed no visits until mid-June 1997, and monthly visits were suspended again from January to March 1999, being restored only after Gong Liwen complained in an open letter to the National Peoples Congress.
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Bush,
I am the mother of Li Hai, a Chinese political prisoner currently suffering in prison. As I write this letter, I want children all over the world to know that I am profoundly angered by the terrorist attacks against America. These were not only attacks against American people; they were acts of war against humanity as a whole. I wholly support the global effort to fight terrorism. As the mother of a son who has been persecuted for his belief in freedom, I grieve for Americans who lost their lives or loved ones in these tragedies.
While I understand you are extremely busy, I still want to appeal to you and your administration to pay attention to my sons case. In December 1996, he was sentenced to nine years in prison on a trumped-up charge of prying into and gathering state secrets. He is currently incarcerated in Beijings Liangxiang Prison.
My son was a graduate student in philosophy at Beijing University when the protests began in 1989. His participation in the demonstrations led to his expulsion from the University at that time. After the crackdown, he decided to collect information on the fate of those detained, and also establish networks to provide emotional, financial and legal support to those who needed it. His activities were motivated by moral commitments, and in no way violated Chinese law. However, to our surprise, the Beijing Public Security Bureau detained Li on charges of hooliganism in May 1995. Later, they indicted him on the far more serious charge of leaking state secrets. From the start, we have felt he was not granted a fair and impartial trial in accordance with the law. In short, my son was wrongfully convicted.
Li Hai is still being closely watched and is confined to a temporary holding cell. He does not enjoy the same rights as common criminals in Chinese prisons. His health is rapidly deteriorating, and he suffers from heart disease, high blood pressure and kidney stones, among other chronic conditions.
Unfortunately, Lis father and I are getting older and our health is failing. My hope is that you and your administration will raise my sons case with Chinese officials during the human rights dialogue. On the basis of morality, domestic law in China and international rights conventions, Li Hai should be released from prison, or paroled for medical treatment. Because my son stood up for those in need, nowadays my husband and I spend our time pleading for help. Those that have been wronged still have faith in justice.
A mother anxious for the freedom of her son,
September 23, 2001
Beatrice Laroche & Joseph Chaney