BEIJING — China has freed a schoolteacher and reduced the prison term of an accomplice jailed for splattering paint on Mao Tse-tung's portrait in Tiananmen Square during democracy protests 11 1/2 years ago, a human rights campaigner said Saturday.
By defacing Mao's mammoth portrait, Yu Zhijian and Yu Dongyue symbolized popular anger at China's revolutionary old guard during the heady 1989 protests. Their harsh sentencing two months into the crackdown--Yu Zhijian, the teacher, got life, and Yu Dongyue, a former arts editor at a Hunan provincial newspaper, got 20 years--was widely publicized and seen as a warning to others.
Word of Yu Zhijian's release Sept. 13 and a two-year reduction in Yu Dongyue's sentence was conveyed Friday in a fax from China's Justice Ministry to John Kamm, head of the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation.
The fax also provided information on three other political prisoners, among them Zhao Fengping, a government archivist sentenced to life 20 years ago for helping paste up democracy tracts. Zhao's term was reduced, and he was released in April, at age 61, Kamm said.
Kamm had asked Justice Ministry officials about the five political prisoners, along with five others, only 10 days earlier. He said the response was the fastest in his eight years of off-and-on dialogue with Chinese authorities and came just before Kamm planned to meet State Department human rights officials.
The fax also said a businessman sentenced to 15 years would be released in May and a middle school teacher had his 18-year sentence reduced by more than 2 1/2 years.