China Activist Risks Jail With Letter to Obama

Published November 5, 2009

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese dissident recently freed after eight years in jail said Thursday he is seeking President Barack Obama's help in gaining medical parole for two friends jailed with him for forming a political study group.

The appeal, made in an open letter, could result in the re-arrest of Yang Zili because the terms of his parole ban him from political activities. But Yang said he felt an obligation to help his friends, who are ill, and Obama may be able to raise their cases with Chinese leaders during his trip to Beijing next month.

"I have no choice but to take this risk because I feel I have a responsibility to help them," Yang said in an interview.

Yang, Zhang Honghai, Xu Wei and Jin Haike were jailed in 2001 for taking part in the New Youth Study Group, an informal group of young professionals and academics that met privately to discuss democratic reform.

The harsh sentences given to the group, known as the "four gentlemen of Beijing," were a sign to many that China's intolerance of political dissent remained entrenched despite dramatic moves to reshape and liberalize the country's economic system.

Yang and Zhang were released in March but Jin and Xu are serving the final two years of their 10-year jail terms.

"They are both seriously ill. One has mental problems, and the other has been very sick ever since he had an appendectomy that went badly," Yang said.

In the letter, e-mailed to the U.S. Embassy with a copy given to The Associated Press, Yang urges Obama to persuade President Hu Jintao to give the men amnesty or medical parole. He says the study group did nothing illegal.

"As the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the president of the greatest democratic country in the world, you have tremendous influence with the Chinese government and its people," said the letter, which was co-signed by Zhang.

"Whether or not this letter is effective depends on how much Obama cares about human rights in China," Yang said.

Many Chinese — especially political activists and religious dissenters — are eager to see whether Obama will take a stand on human rights during his first trip to China as president. Obama arrives in Shanghai on Nov. 14.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton angered activists in February when she said during a trip to Beijing that the United States would not let its human rights concerns interfere with cooperation with Beijing on global crises.

Written by Associated Press

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