The man who hijacked a Chinese airliner to Japan last December to flee Communist rule was returned to China on Saturday despite last-minute pleas for clemency.
Zhang Zhenhai, 36, was whisked by Chinese officials from an Air China 747 jetliner at Beijing’s Capital Airport in a convoy of eight police vehicles and driven away .
Last Dec. 16, Zhang seized control of another Air China jumbo jet with 233 people aboard on the Beijing-to-Shanghai leg of a flight to New York. He demanded that it fly to South Korea. The Boeing 747’s pilot landed in Fukuoka, in southwestern Japan, when Seoul refused landing rights. Zhang was seriously injured when a crew member pushed him out an open door of the plane onto the tarmac.
His wife and 10-year-old son were on board and were returned under guard to China the next day along with the other passengers.
Zhang asked for political asylum in Japan, saying he took part in last year’s pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing that ended in an army attack and would face the death penalty in China.
But Japan’s high court said it doubted that Zhang had been a dissident and ordered his extradition. Japanese officials handed him over Saturday to Chinese authorities for the flight to Beijing.
Human rights groups in Japan and abroad, including Amnesty International, criticized the extradition order returning Zhang to China. They said he should be tried in Japan for the hijacking.
Zhang’s lawyers appealed on his behalf up to the last minute, petitioning for the Japanese justice minister’s repatriation order to be lifted. They argued that Zhang faced certain execution on his return to China, since he took part in political protests in China last year.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Taizo Watanabe said Tuesday that Japan has written assurance from China that Zhang would be tried only for hijacking and a verbal guarantee that the maximum sentence would be 10 years.