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An indefatigable advocate for rights

June 19, 2002

Born in 1954, Zhang Shanguang is one of China’s most outspoken defenders of worker rights. A former teacher and native of Xupu County, Hunan Province, Zhang was a chief organizer of the Hunan Autonomous Workers’ Federation during the 1989 democracy demonstrations. Zhang had been released in 1996 after serving a seven-year sentence for his role in advocating labor rights during the 1989 demonstrations.

Zhang is now serving a 10-year sentence for “providing intelligence to institutions outside of China’s borders.” He had given a series of interviews to foreign media, including an interview with a journalist from Radio Free Asia in which he disclosed information about demonstrations near his home that was already widely known. However, Zhang’s efforts to establish the Association to Protect the Rights and Interests of Laid-Off Workers in Xupu County is considered one of the main reasons for the harsh sentence he received. By July 1998, the association reportedly had more than 300 members from all spheres of society, including workers, peasants, intellectuals and cadres. With fellow dissidents in 1998, Zhang petitioned for the release of China Democracy Party members Wang Donghai, Wang Youcai and others.

Zhang’s trial lasted a mere two hours and was held behind closed doors. Zhang’s wife, Hou Xuezhu, was denied access to the proceedings after the authorities claimed the trial would involve information that should not be made public. The verdict asserted that Zhang provided the interviewer with “intelligence” because Chinese authorities had not yet made the case public, even though it was common knowledge among citizens of Xupu County and the surrounding area.

Zhang was also accused of illegally accepting contributions from Human Rights in China’s humanitarian assistance fund. The authorities confiscated the US$2,000 he had received for urgent medical care. He has never been properly cured of the tuberculosis he contracted during his first prison term.

After the prison guards discovered that Zhang was circulating the appeal translated here and collecting signatures from fellow prisoners to support the action, he was placed in solitary confinement and faces severe punishment.

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