In solidarity with a man who inspires so many other democrats in China, I am on a hunger strike in front of the United Nations while Chinese President Jiang Zemin takes part in the U.N. 50th anniversary celebrations. As leaders of the world congregate to observe their successes, I and many other Chinese democrats will ponder the future of our colleagues suffering at the hands of the likes of Jiang--a hand President Clinton will shake today.
Who is Chen Ziming and those who support him? We are ordinary Chinese citizens committed to bringing about peaceful transformation to constitutional democracy in China. Our democracy movement emerged in the mid-1970s, and in spite of harsh government oppression and the imprisonment of our leaders, we have survived. We are committed democrats willing to suffer inevitable imprisonment because we believe the Chinese people have a right to raise our voices in opposition to corrupt policies and a right to free speech--our Constitution tells us so, but our government enforces otherwise.
Chen Ziming, my friend and colleague, is a leader of our movement. He was first arrested in 1975 when he criticized the "Gang of Four," Mao Tse-tung's repressive advisers, who were later discredited and convicted of persecuting thousands during the Cultural Revolution. Chen took part in the 1976 Tian An Men Square demonstrations and the 1978-79 Democracy Wall movement. After the 1989 Tian An Men massacre, Chen and I were arrested and sentenced to 13 years in prison for "counterrevolutionary" activities.
In 1994, President Clinton intervened personally with Jiang Zemin on our cases, and shortly before the United States renewed China's most-favored-nation status, we were released. I was forced into exile in the United States while Chen remained in China.
Chen was very sick when he was released and underwent medical treatment for a number of ailments, including cancer. He was under constant medical attention when rearrested by Chinese authorities this past June. His rearrest was a slap in the face of the United States, as it had personally worked to secure his release.
The Chinese authorities have denied Chen medical attention while in prison, his cancer is spreading and his health is deteriorating. To protest the inhumane treatment he is receiving, he started a hunger strike on Oct. 13.
I am very concerned about the health and very life of my friend. We are close colleagues, sharing similar experiences as we fought for the right of political expression in our own land. We were incarcerated in isolated cells in the same prison; we both went on hunger strikes to protest our treatment. I am witness to who he is, what he did, how Chinese captors denigrate and try to break prisoners of conscience and the toll taken on those who go on hunger strikes.
I appeal to President Clinton and other leaders of the world to stand firm with these souls who hold democratic principles dear. Please lend a hand to save Chen Ziming's life and help Wei Jingsheng, Bao Tong, Wang Dan, Liu Xiaobo and others who languish in Chinese prisons. President Jiang Zemin's repressive policies can only meet with failure if he continues the dictatorship in the post-Deng era. The Chinese people do not want another Deng Xiaoping; they yearn for peace, freedom and democracy.