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China Student Convicted of Dissent : Case of Former U.S. Resident Defines Curbs on Freedom

December 22, 1987|DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — A one-time Chinese student at the University of Arizona who was active in the United States and Shanghai in movements aimed at promoting democracy in China was convicted by a Shanghai court Monday of "counterrevolutionary" activities.

Yang Wei, 32, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment plus one year's deprivation of political rights, the official New China News Agency reported. The entire trial, which foreign reporters were not allowed to attend, took just one day.

Yang, a Chinese citizen who was arrested in January after participating in a pro-democracy student demonstration in Shanghai late last year, was imprisoned for nearly a year while awaiting trial, reportedly in Shanghai Detention Center No. 1. The time already served will count as part of the two years, Li Guoji, his Shanghai lawyer, said in a telephone interview Monday evening.

Defining the Limits

Yang's case, which has drawn the attention of the U.S. Congress and Reagan Administration officials, defines some of the limits on political freedom for Chinese students who study in the United States and return to China.

The New China News Agency article implied that being associated with the Chinese Alliance for Democracy, headquartered in New York City, or its magazine, China Spring, may be a criminal act for a Chinese citizen because the organization aims at abolishing the "four cardinal principles" embodied in China's constitution.

The four principles are socialism; rule by the Communist Party; the dictatorship of the proletariat, and Marxism, Leninism and Mao Tse-tung thought.

The alliance and its journal have become leading vehicles for the expression of dissent by Chinese students and scholars in the United States.

About 20,000 students and scholars from China are now in the United States. Among them is Yang's wife, Che Shaoli, a graduate student at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The court was told that Yang had joined the alliance in 1985, while studying in the United States, and that he wrote articles for China Spring "in which he attacked the people's democratic dictatorship and the socialist system," the New China News Agency reported.

Yang studied at the University of Arizona from 1983 to 1986, earning a master's degree in molecular biology. After returning to China, he took part in a pro-democracy demonstration by tens of thousands of students in Shanghai last December. He was arrested in mid-January.

The Congress recently passed a resolution saying that Yang had broken no Chinese or U.S. laws and calling for his release.

The New China News Agency responded earlier this month by calling the action "undisguised interference in China's internal affairs."

The news agency reported Monday that the Shanghai court was told that in late 1986 Yang "was active in collecting information about students' unrest" and "secretly sent materials back to the headquarters of the alliance."

"He was found to have put up reactionary slogans on the campus of Fudan University (in Shanghai) on Dec. 22, 1986," the news agency added.

At the trial, Li said, his client acknowledged his association with the Chinese Alliance for Democracy and China Spring, as well as his participation in a student demonstration in Shanghai and distribution of pro-democracy literature.

Yang also admitted having a "bourgeois liberal attitude," Li said. "Bourgeois liberalization"--a code phrase for Western ideas of democracy and capitalism--was the target of a harsh ideological campaign that followed the January crackdown on the student demonstrations.

But Yang insisted that none of this, or anything else he had done, constituted a crime, Li said. Yang intends to appeal his conviction to the Shanghai high court, Li added.

The court focused on Yang's actions in Shanghai, but his activities in the United States formed an important part of the background, Li said. It apparently was the combination of activities on both sides of the Pacific that got him in trouble, he said.

"If he hadn't participated in the Alliance for Democracy and written the articles, he probably wouldn't have been arrested," Li said. "Or if he hadn't participated in the demonstration and distributed materials, his activities in the United States wouldn't have been a big problem."

Chinese students in the United States have considerable freedom of speech, but if they write or say things clearly advocating the abolition of Communist rule in China, they risk being viewed as lawbreakers, Li said.

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