February 22, 2006 By Benjamin Kang Lim
BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese journalist jailed for throwing paint at a
portrait of Mao Zedong during the 1989 Tiananmen protests is due to be freed
on Wednesday, his mother and a rights activist said, ahead of President Hu
Jintao's visit to the United States.
A Chinese paramilitary policeman stands guard at Tiananmen Square in Beijing October 1, 2005. A Chinese journalist, jailed for splashing paint over a portrait of Mao Zedong during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, is due to be freed on Wednesday, his mother and a rights activist said, ahead of President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States. REUTERS/Jason Lee
The release of Yu Dongyue, 38, from more than 16 years in prison would leave
about 70 Chinese political prisoners still serving time for their roles in
the student-led demonstrations for democracy crushed by the army on June 4,
1989, the human rights watchdog Dui Hua Foundation said.
"He's the last major Tiananmen figure (to be released)," said John Kamm,
chairman of the San Francisco-based foundation who helps secure the release
of Chinese political prisoners.
It was unclear if Yu's case was connected to Hu's visit to the United States
expected in April. China has in the past freed political prisoners ahead of
major state visits.
Yu's mother, Wu Pinghua, 56, said by telephone local officials had told her
that she should wait at her home in Shegang in the southern province of
Hunan for her son's return.
"He hasn't come home for 17 years. I'm very happy ... but he's mentally ill
and it will be a burden to take care of him," the mother told Reuters,
speaking with a heavy Hunan accent.
Yu Dongyue, 38, a former journalist and art critic with Hunan's Liuyang News
was incomprehensible and did not recognise his mother during her last
prison visit in late 2004. The authorities had rejected applications for his
The cabinet's spokesman office had no immediate comment.
A colleague who was sentenced to 16 years in prison, Lu Decheng, is now in
Thai police custody after fleeing China in 2004 while on parole to try to
drum up support for the release of Yu, who rights groups say suffered a
mental breakdown after persistent prison beatings.
Lu, a former bus driver, is due to leave for Canada on March 14 under a
resettlement programme sponsored by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees,
a Thai legal coordinator said, in a move certain to upset China, which is
seeking his repatriation.
A third co-defendant who was sentenced to life imprisonment but later
paroled, Yu Zhijian, was taken into Chinese police custody last week on
suspicion of attempting to subvert the state, the Washington-based Radio
Free Asia said.
It quoted Yu's girlfriend as saying he staged a hunger strike with four
other people in support of a human rights lawyer, who has complained of
harassment by the state security apparatus. His cell phone was out of
service on Wednesday.
The two Yus are childhood friends but not related.
Yu Dongyue was sentenced to 20 years in prison for hurling emptied eggshells
containing red paint at Mao's giant portrait which hangs over the entrance
to the Forbidden City, once the home of China's emperors, and overlooks
Tiananmen Square at the height of the demonstrations on May 23, 1989.
Student protesters grabbed the three men and turned them over to the
Mao is still revered by many in China even though millions were purged or
killed during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and about 30 million
starved to death after he launched the Great Leap Forward campaign in 1958
and urged farmers to abandon their fields to make steel in backyard furnaces
It was unclear why Yu Dongyue remained in prison while the other men were
paroled. His sentence was cut twice -- by two years in 2000 and another 15
months in 2003.
China has sought Lu's repatriation.
"Lu Decheng slipped out violating Chinese laws. The Chinese government's
repatriation request totally conforms with international practice," the
Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement faxed to Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan in Bangkok)