Families demand parole for jailed Chinese dissidents

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Two weeks after China freed Wei Jingsheng, its best known dissident, and forced him into exile in the United States, families or supporters of several political prisoners who remain behind bars have demanded medical parole for them.

The most prominent pro-democracy activist still in jail in China, Wang Dan, 28, is the most likely candidate for another parole and exile, as the release of a high-profile name would most benefit China in its dealing with the US.

Mr Wang's mother, Wang Lingyun, said the family would renew an earlier appeal for medical parole "before the end of the year".

For several months the family has said Mr Wang's health has sharply deteriorated in jail.

"It's been half a year, they still have not said yes or no to our request for medical parole," she said. Mr Wang, a student leader in 1989, was last year jailed for 11 years for subversion. He had previously served a four-year term.

Many other dissidents, whose names are unknown in the West, are languishing in jails and labour camps. The parents of Sun Liyong wrote to the Justice Minister this week, after doctors recently found their son had tuberculosis after serving all but six months of a seven-year sentence.

Mr Sun's crime was to print a publication demanding the release of those jailed after the 1989 pro-democracy process. "I'm worried he'll die in prison," Mr Sun's mother, Hu Xueling, told Reuters news agency by telephone.

Mr Sun, like Mr Wei, has been beaten in jail by other inmates, who receive rewards for such attacks. Amnesty International has appealed for the release of 39-year-old Chen Longde who was sent to a labour camp last year for writing a letter to parliament calling for the release of Mr Wei. In August 1996 he jumped from a window to escape beatings and is still on crutches.

The wife of the veteran activist, Liu Jingsheng, who was jailed in 1995 for 15 years for subversion, has also sought medical parole for her husband.

Meanwhile, in the US, Mr Wei is getting used to being a free man again, and has been deciding between job offers which would have been utter fantasy just two weeks ago.

Yesterday he accepted an appointment as a visiting scholar at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, where he will deliver lectures and workshops.