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China's Wang pleads for other dissidents' release

Wang
Wang is undergoing medical tests at a Detroit hospital   

Exiled activist undergoing medical tests in Detroit

April 20, 1998
Web posted at: 10:10 a.m. EDT (1410 GMT)

DETROIT (CNN) -- Chinese dissident Wang Dan, whose leadership role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests earned him international attention, pleaded for the release of more prisoners of conscience Monday as he underwent medical tests at a Detroit hospital.

In a statement, Wang thanked the U.S. government "for its efforts in pressing for my release."

"At the same time, I greatly hope that those democracy activists who continue to be imprisoned in China can soon obtain their freedom," he said.

Wang also announced a news conference Thursday in New York.

Wang arrived in the United States Sunday after he was released from a Chinese prison and sent into exile by Chinese authorities. Within an hour of arrival at a Detroit airport, Wang, 29, entered Henry Ford Hospital, where doctors hope to determine the extent of health problems he developed while in prison in China.

Dr. Thomas Royer, chief medical officer, said Wang was in "stable and good condition" and should be discharged late Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

U.S. claims human rights victory with Wang's exile

Berger
Berger   

China's release of the famed dissident was hailed by the Clinton administration.

"The release of Wang Dan suggests that our continuing drumbeat on the subject of human rights does have an impact," said Sandy Berger, the White House national security adviser. "Both the president and others who have been engaged in this are enormously pleased by Wang Dan's release."

"It is a part of a long-term effort that we have been engaged in, to try to make progress on human rights in China, which has produced some concrete results," he said.

Wang's release comes two months before President Clinton is to make his first trip to China. Chinese officials deny a link between Wang's release and Clinton's visit. And human rights activists say Wang's release should not be seen as a softening of China's hard-line stand against political dissent.

"First of all, he's only one of thousands of political prisoners in China," said Sidney Jones of Human Rights Watch/Asia. "Secondly, he was given the choice between continued imprisonment and exile in the United States. It's not as though he would be free to speak out in China."

Leader of 1989 Tiananmen Square protests

Tiananmen Square
A protester confronts tanks during the 1989 democracy protest in Beijing   

Nevertheless, Wang's release helps close the chapter on one of the most tense periods in Sino-U.S. relations following the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

Wang was on China's most-wanted list after the Tiananmen Square protests were crushed by the army.

He was arrested in a nationwide dragnet and jailed for four years. On his release, he kept speaking out for greater political freedom and was detained again in 1995. A Beijing court sentenced him to 11 years in prison in October 1996.

China has previously released dissidents to appease human rights critics in the West. Last November, it released Wei Jingsheng, the father of China's democracy movement.

Wang
Wang was released Sunday   

Wang had said he would not follow his fellow dissidents like Wei into exile in order to win freedom. Declining health changed his mind. He suffers from a chronic cough which could be attributed to allergies or chronic bronchitis. He was to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and meet a neurologist and an ophthalmologist Monday to determine whether his chronic headaches are symptoms of a brain tumor.

"He did have a number of complaints, and some of them are constant," said Dr. Robert Hyzy, director of the hospital's critical care unit. "He is generally in good shape.

"His spirits are good," added Royer. "Obviously he's in a strange country around strange people. We do have some physicians on staff who speak Mandarin Chinese, so we're able to communicate with him fluently."

Rights group lists 158 other dissidents in jail

While some diplomats are hailing Wang's release, in China his exile hasn't changed much for the average person. Most Chinese haven't heard that he's out, if they have heard of him at all.

"I think it's a good thing for anybody to get out of prison early," said one Beijing man, when asked what he thought of Wang's freedom. "But I'm not really sure who Wang Dan is."

Meanwhile, a whole host of other, less famous dissidents are still behind bars. Chu Hailan is fighting for the release of her husband, political prisoner Liu Nianchun, who has been in jail for three years. His health is also failing.

And the New York-based group Human Rights in China has issued a list of 158 other political dissidents still in prison for their role in the Tiananmen Square protests. The list was sent to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who will visit China next week to lay the groundwork for Clinton's trip.

The U.S. State Department says it is lobbying for the release of more dissidents. But activists in China say that not much will change as long as the government has the power to arrest citizens for their political views.

Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist, Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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