Execution looms in China

Pierson is a Times staff writer.

A Chinese businessman and scientist accused of spying for Taiwan is expected to be executed Thursday in Beijing despite a rare international campaign waged by American and European diplomats to save his life, a family member said Tuesday.

American, French, Czech and Austrian diplomats urged the Chinese government to reconsider the case of Wo Weihan, 59, who was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to death after he allegedly confessed to passing information to Taiwan about Chinese missiles and the health of senior Chinese leaders.

China’s Supreme People’s Court began reviewing the sentence eight months ago, but court officials last week told Wo’s wife that she should submit a request to see her husband.


The procedure is traditionally a precursor to an execution and signals an end to the court’s review, human rights experts say.

The notification from court officials stunned family members, who had spent more than a year drawing attention to Wo’s plight, a rare case among untold numbers of Chinese who face execution each year.

Efforts to save Wo’s life are being led by his daughter, Ran Chen, an Austrian citizen, and her husband, Michael Rolufs, an American from New Orleans whose siblings in Pasadena also aided the campaign.

“We always had optimism, but it was getting to be less and less. Now it’s reached rock bottom,” Rolufs said in a phone interview Tuesday from Beijing. “We asked for a transparent legal system, but it’s just not here.”

Wo’s supporters have questioned the credibility of the government’s case, arguing that Wo was coerced into making a confession that he later retracted.

They say Wo, a biomedical researcher based in Beijing, was prohibited from seeing a lawyer until 10 months after his arrest and that documented evidence against him was not made available for his defense.

The Supreme People’s Court review process was introduced in 2007, part of the central government’s efforts to reform China’s capital punishment system.

John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation in San Francisco, a human rights group, said it was impossible to verify that reforms were working.

Kamm said Chinese court officials told him that 15% of death sentences had been reversed during the first six months of this year. But because defendants were tried behind closed doors, the figure could not be independently corroborated. Additional figures for this year were not available.

“I’m very, very distressed,” Kamm said. “I thought they were serious about implementing reform.”

Kamm said an execution was inherently damaging to China’s national interests, considering that relations between China and Taiwan are at an all-time high and that the United Nations recently urged China to improve its human rights record.

Wo’s daughter, who last spent time with him at her wedding in 2004 in Austria, learned Tuesday that she and her stepmother will be permitted to see Wo on Thursday at the prison hospital in the Chinese capital where he is being held. Rolufs said Wo is expected to be executed the same day.