Chinese dissident: Life in China became unbearable

May 3, 1996
Web posted at: 10:15 p.m. EDT (0215 GMT)

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Prominent Chinese dissident Liu Gang, who fled to the United States Wednesday, said he left China because his life became "unbearable" there, and that he wanted to spare his family further persecution.

In his first televised interview since he arrived in the United States, Liu, a leader of the Tiananmen Square student protests, told CNN he was able to flee China with "a lot of help from friends," but declined to reveal any more details on his escape. (587K AIFF sound or 587K WAV sound of Liu's interview with CNN's Gary Tuchman)

Beijing ranked Liu third on the government's most wanted list of 21 students after the army violently crushed demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

Gang quote

Following a six-year stint in a Chinese jail on charges of subverting the government, Liu, a former Beijing University physics student, was released from prison last year.

Liu said he was beaten badly while in jail; at one time, he said, the police even broke his arm. "They put me in a small cell for nine months, not seeing anyone else and not talking," he said. (561K AIFF sound or 561K WAV sound)

Tiananmen Square

But even after his release, Liu said, the police continued to terrorize him and his family, following them in cars and on motorcycles and ramming their vehicles. He alleges that the authorities seized all his property and assets, and told him not to leave his hometown.

Liu, who is staying at the home of a fellow dissident in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said he is very worried about his family, especially his father and two sisters. He urged Chinese authorities not to harass them. (638K AIFF sound or 638K WAV sound)

But he said he believes his family is safer without him in China.

Liu was the target of a police manhunt after he defied a travel ban and slipped away from his hometown of Lingyuan, 420 miles northeast of Beijing, last month.

"Initially I had no plans to leave China, but they (the police) were after me and I was almost caught on several occasions," he told Reuters. "It was impossible for me to meet friends in Beijing because they would be in danger."

The dissident adds that being here doesn't mean he's given up on his work of trying to bring change to China. He says just before he left he wrote a letter to senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, urging the government to start talks with dissidents to try to achieve a political reconciliation.

Letter from Liu Gang

The U.S. government says Liu was allowed into the country under a provision that permits immediate entry for emergency reasons or the public interest.

Liu will be staying in Massachusetts for the time being. In the short term, he plans to enroll in a U.S. university. In the long-term, he hopes to go back to China.

And he still believes it will be to a new, democratic China.

"Democratization is the trend of the whole world," he said.

A stream of dissidents and student leaders fled China and won asylum in the West in the months after the June 4, 1989, crackdown, but few have escaped in recent years.

CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman and Reuters contributed to this report.

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