Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that Tiananmen veteran Zhang Ming is in critical condition after embarking on a hunger strike in his Shanghai prison to protest his harsh sentence on what he claims are bogus charges.
Zhang Ming was one of 21 student leaders of the 1989 pro-democracy protests. He was eventually imprisoned for three years on charges of “counterrevolutionary incitement,” and with fellow activist Liu Gang suffered horrific abuse and torture in the notorious Lingyuan Prison in Liaoning Province.
Zhang was arrested again on September 9, 2002 on charges of “endangering public safety” through an alleged plot to explode a multistory building. At the time of his arrest, Zhang Ming was president of a Shanghai company that he had built into a flourishing concern. Given Zhang’s obvious dedication to his company, the authorities apparently realized that the accusation of violent activity could not be supported. On October 16, 2002 he was formally charged with “abuse of executive benefits,” for which the Shanghai Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to seven years in prison on September 9, 2003.
According to sources in China, the real reason for Zhang Ming’s arrest was his refusal to recant his political principles or express regret for his previous actions, and the ill feeling and envy that his financial success aroused among Chinese officials. Apart from imprisoning Zhang, the official investigation into his company resulted in heavy financial losses.
Zhang Ming has consistently denied guilt, and one of the chief prosecution witnesses reportedly admitted to Zhang Ming’s lawyers that the statement he provided against Zhang was false. However, after being warned by the judge that admission of a false statement could land him in prison for three to five years, that witness declined to testify in court on Zhang Ming’s behalf. The judge also accused Zhang Ming’s lawyer of encouraging the witness to retract his statement, a charge that could result in imprisonment for the lawyer. Zhang’s lawyers were also denied access to a large quantity of the prosecution’s evidence on the direction of the top levels of the Shanghai government.
Sources say that Zhang Ming has been subjected to constant physical abuse since his detention, including harsh beatings by police officers. When he went on hunger strike to protest his lack of an open trial, Zhang was bound to his bed for 113 hours, and was given no opportunity to wash himself or use toilet facilities, causing him considerable humiliation and physical discomfort. Zhang began his most recent hunger strike on November 18, 2003, and has been reduced to a skeletal condition after dropping some 50 pounds in weight.
A native of Jilin, Zhang Ming was born in 1965 and enrolled in Tsinghua University in 1984 to study automotive engineering. He became involved in the student protests in the spring of 1989, and eventually took on a leadership role among the protesters at Tiananmen Square. Following the violent official suppression of the protests on June 4, Zhang Ming organized and led a series of follow-up protest actions that put him on the Chinese government’s “Most Wanted” list.
Zhang Ming and his family members accuse the government of political persecution through this latest conviction. Family members have called on the authorities and the Supreme Court to grant Zhang Ming an appeal trial in which all prosecution evidence is made available to the defense, and all available witnesses are allowed to testify on Zhang Ming’s behalf.
“The available information strongly suggests that Zhang Ming has been denied a fair trial on purely political grounds,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “It is completely unacceptable for the justice system to be used as a tool of political oppression. Zhang Ming should be granted a fair and open retrial, and in the meantime he should be provided with all necessary medical attention to treat his fragile physical condition.”