Congressman Appeals to China to Help Jailed Dissident : Diplomacy: Ravenel urges medical aid after talks with the wife of an accused leader of the Tian An Men Square protests.


A visiting U.S. congressman met unofficially Wednesday with the highest-profile dissident in China not currently in jail, then publicly called for her imprisoned husband to be given proper medical care.

Rep. Arthur Ravenel Jr. (R-S.C.) told a news conference at the U.S. Embassy that he met “in a public place” with Hou Xiaotian, the wife of jailed journalist Wang Juntao, and that she confirmed published reports that her husband suffers from hepatitis B and is being held in solitary confinement at a Beijing prison.

Wang and social scientist Chen Ziming were accused of being key behind-the-scenes organizers of the massive pro-democracy demonstrations that erupted in Beijing during the spring of 1989. They were sentenced to 13-year prison terms, the harshest punishment meted out to any leaders of the Tian An Men Square protests.


Hou, 28, was herself imprisoned without charge for five months after the June 4, 1989, army crackdown that ended the protests. Since last fall, she has been waging a risky campaign on behalf of her husband and political prisoners in general, occasionally giving on-the-record interviews to foreign reporters despite the risk that she may again be jailed for challenging the government in this manner.

Ravenel said at the news conference that under a provision of Chinese law concerning prisoners who are ill, Wang “can be released (temporarily) from prison and could receive the kind of medical treatment that he needs.”

Wang now is “in solitary confinement” in “a little tiny room . . . with this little mat on the floor to sleep on and a window way up on the side of the wall,” Ravenel said.

Ravenel said he and other members of a visiting congressional group had pressed high Chinese leaders and other officials to arrange a visit with Wang or Hou but were refused.

Then on Wednesday afternoon, someone who did not represent Chinese authorities helped Ravenel and his wife slip away and meet Hou, the congressman said.

Ravenel indicated that he believes that Wang is indeed sick, even though “the Chinese authorities told us that he is not ill.”

“I hope that the Chinese authorities can find it in their hearts to see to it that he gets the kind of medical attention that he needs, and that people would be allowed to visit him so that we can establish definitely what his situation really is,” Ravenel said.

Various human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Asia Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have issued appeals on Wang’s behalf. Wang had recently vowed to go on a hunger strike to protest his jail conditions, raising international concern that he might die in prison.

Hou told Ravenel that her once-a-month visiting privileges with her husband have been at least temporarily revoked. This apparently was in retaliation for her persistence in speaking out on his behalf. Other members of Wang’s family, however, are still able to see him.

Ravenel said he understood from Hou that Wang “apparently . . . is not going on a hunger strike.”

The British news agency Reuters reported Wednesday, however, that friends of Chen, the social scientist sentenced together with Wang, passed on word that Chen began a hunger strike to demand better prison conditions for Wang and himself.

Ravenel said that when Hou last met with Wang, which would have been more than a month ago, he “was so despondent he said he would rather die than live under those conditions.”

The risks faced by Hou in persisting with her outspoken campaign on behalf of her husband are illustrated by the troubles two other prominent dissidents have recently had with authorities.

Zhang Weiguo, a journalist from Shanghai who spent 20 months in jail for his alleged involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, was the only major dissident figure besides Hou to speak openly with the foreign press during the first half of this year. Zhang was rearrested in late July, according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

China’s most famous woman journalist, Dai Qing, has experienced different sorts of difficulties.

Dai, who was imprisoned for 10 months after the 1989 crackdown, was later released and allowed to continue drawing her salary from the Guangming Daily newspaper. She has not been allowed to write, however, and she has maintained a low profile, generally denying interview requests.

Dai has been offered a prestigious Nieman Fellowship for a year of study at Harvard University, but so far has been unable to win permission to travel to the United States, according to friends quoted Tuesday by Reuters.

Chinese citizens must get permission from their employer before authorities will issue a passport, and the state-controlled Guangming Daily is refusing to grant approval, the writer’s friends said.