Shen Tong, one of China's most prominent exiled dissidents, was detained by police at his mother's home early this morning, about 10 days after his return to Beijing.
Shen, who had returned from exile in the United States and spent nearly three weeks in other parts of China before arriving in the capital, had spread word Monday that he planned a press conference for this morning. That step apparently prompted authorities to move against him. If he is held for any length of time, his case would probably become a highly visible issue in Sino-U.S. relations.
Shen had been accompanied in Beijing by Ross Terrill, a well-known author of books on China who is a research fellow at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard University.
Shen and two other Chinese dissidents, Qi Dafeng, a student leader and former political prisoner from Tianjin, and Qian Liyun, the wife of exiled student leader Xiong Yan, were detained by police at Shen's home at 1 a.m. today, Terrill told reporters this morning. Two Paris-based French journalists with Shen, Christoph Nick and a man Terrill knew only as Pascal, were also picked up by police, he said. All five apparently remain in police custody.
Terrill himself, after speaking to about 20 reporters in the hallway of his hotel at 9 a.m., was detained in his room by Chinese security men for nearly three hours. He was released around noon in the company of U.S. embassy officials.
Shen "is quite prepared to go to prison," but he is "difficult for the Chinese to deal with" because he is "very self-confident" and "extremely well-connected in the United States," Terrill said. "There are senators from both parties that, if the Chinese prove to be heavy-handed in this matter, will have a lot to say."
Shen, 24, a graduate student at Boston University, heads the U.S.-based Democracy for China Fund. Terrill is an adviser to the group.
Before his brief detention, Terrill also released the statement Shen had prepared for his news conference.
"I have returned to stand again with those I left behind following the brutal crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement," Shen said in the statement.
Shen urged reformists within the Communist Party to make full use of "the limited freedom provided by the existing system." He urged underground dissident organizations to "surface in a limited, organized fashion to create a larger sphere for yourselves."
Shen's risky decision to try to hold a press conference came as the New York-based human rights organization Asia Watch released a report describing the torture of Chinese political prisoners at a "reform-through-labor" prison factory in northeast China's Liaoning Province. Asia Watch said it had confirmed the authenticity of a document detailing the prisoners' plight that was smuggled out of the prison in July.
The prisoners include Liu Gang, a student leader who was third on a police list of 21 "most wanted" fugitives issued after the June 4, 1989, killings that ended the Tian An Men Square pro-democracy protests.
On May 29, 1991, Liu and 10 other political prisoners refused to take a test on "standards of conduct for criminals undergoing reform," according to the document.
It then relates what followed:
"Tang Yuanjuan, An Fuxing, Zhang Ming and Leng Wanbao were confined in tiny solitary confinement cells measuring two meters by a meter. They were tortured continuously, stripped naked, held down on the floor and assaulted repeatedly with several high-voltage--varying from 10,000 to 50,000 volts--electric batons simultaneously administered to their head, neck, shoulders, chest, belly, armpit, inside part of the leg and fingers."
"They went on hunger strike to protest the brutality, only to make matters worse," the smuggled document continued. "The baton used to torture Tang Yuanjuan ran out of power. Two of his ribs were broken as he was kicked by a guard wearing leather boots."
The document continued with details of torture to the other prisoners during that episode and in subsequent months.