After more than a decade in a Shanghai prison, a Chinese-American entrepreneur whose case illustrated the perils of doing business in China and the nation’s tenuous rule of law was released Wednesday on parole.
Jude Shao, 45, had about five years left on a 16-year sentence for tax evasion and fraud -- allegations that his supporters say were false.
For years, Shao’s former classmates from the Stanford Graduate School of Business led a campaign seeking his freedom, and many members of Congress and the Bush administration pressed the Chinese government to release him.
Under China’s legal system, Shao had been eligible for parole since 2006 but had been denied, with no public explanation given. But Wednesday -- a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded a visit to Beijing during which human rights were discussed -- Shao walked out of Qingpu Prison, on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Under China’s parole rules, Shao would probably face travel limits and other restrictions, including contact with foreigners and the press. But it is possible that the parole could lead to full freedom sooner than the five years of the remaining term.
“We welcome this development and urge China to continue to make progress on other prisoner cases,” a State Department official in Washington said Wednesday. There was no immediate statement from China’s government on the matter.
Shao’s supporters had held out hope that he might be freed this year because of the resumption of the human rights dialogue between Washington and Beijing in late May.
During those talks, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer raised concerns about Shao’s case and asked for his release, a State Department official said.
In addition, some China specialists noted that with the Olympics next month, Beijing was eager to buff up its image, which recently had been tarnished by deadly riots in Tibet and other incidents in which Chinese lawyers, journalists and human rights activists had been silenced.
On Sunday, Chinese authorities prevented some Chinese lawyers from attending a dinner with two U.S. congressmen who were in Beijing to press for the release of more than 700 political prisoners.
The Republican congressmen expressed outrage, and one of them, Frank Wolf of Virginia, called on President Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games if there was no progress in Beijing’s handling of political prisoners. Bush has rejected calls that he skip the ceremony, and Rice said this week that she planned to attend the Games as well.
John Kamm, director of the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco group that works to free political prisoners in China, said he was very happy about Shao’s parole.
“This has been a long and hard-fought campaign,” Kamm said, adding that he viewed it as a favorable sign for U.S.-China relations. “It’s an indication of a warming trend.”
Shao, a naturalized U.S. citizen, returned to his native Shanghai for business after receiving an MBA from Stanford in 1993. He formed a company that was exporting U.S. medical equipment to China.
But in 1997, a tax auditor arrived at Shao’s office in Shanghai and solicited a bribe, according to Shao’s supporters. After Shao refused, the auditor seized company records and froze bank accounts, killing the business, Shao’s friends said.
Shao was arrested in 1998, and supporters say he wasn’t given a fair trial, a claim supported by legal experts at People’s University in Beijing who reviewed his case and determined that Shao deserved a retrial. That never happened.
While behind bars, Shao learned that his father had died and that his wife was divorcing him. His mother and older sister, who live in Shanghai, were allowed to visit him once a month, for 30 minutes each.
Shao’s Stanford classmates, however, never gave up hope.
They set up a website, wrote opinion pieces in newspapers about his case and urged Congress and others to take up the cause.
During the 15-year reunion in May for the Stanford Business School’s class of 1993, alumni spent part of the weekend brainstorming ways to keep up pressure for Shao’s release.
Shao’s friends were thrilled to hear word of his parole.
“We’re very excited for him,” said Chuck Hoover, Shao’s former roommate at Stanford and a leader of the Free Jude Shao campaign. Hoover, who works for an Internet company in Los Angeles, said he had not talked with Shao in more than 10 years.
“We’re excited he can get on with his life now.”