- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

China’s political and human rights climate remains oppressive despite the economic and social gains of the past decade, three exiled leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests told a congressional panel yesterday.

“In terms of democratic politics and political reform, I can say that there really has been no change or progress whatsoever,” said Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 student protests violently suppressed by China’s Communist leaders.

“The lack of transparency and openness was most notably revealed in the recent case of the cover-up of the SARS epidemic,” said Mr. Wang, who was expelled to the United States in 1998, after spending much of the previous decade in jail for his political activities.

He is a graduate student of history at Harvard and said yesterday that he hopes to return to China.

Mr. Wang and fellow student democracy activists Tong Yi and Liu Gang testified before the Congressional Executive Commission on China a day before the 14th anniversary of the bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests. All three settled in the United States after being released from Chinese jails.

Miss Tong, now a lawyer in New York City, served 2 years in a government “re-education through labor” camp in her native Wuhan before being allowed to come to the United States in 1997.

She told the commission that police corruption and abuses continue daily under the “custody and repatriation” system, used by the police and security forces to detain and control the influx of poor, rural migrants into China’s booming urban areas.

She testified that the system has become a means for authorities to extort money from detainees, build up a source of cheap labor and remove potential protesters from the streets when a foreign dignitary visits or an international conference comes to town.

The system has come under new scrutiny because of a petition filed last month by three Beijing legal scholars to the national parliament, questioning the constitutionality of the system after the death in custody of a young man in the southern city of Guangzhou in March.

The petition has garnered huge attention in China, but Miss Tong said the persistence of abuses is one sign of the regime’s failings.

“On the C&R; issue, China’s human rights certainly have not improved since 1989,” she said. “They clearly have gone in the other direction.”

Mr. Liu, an engineer working in Denver who spent six years in prison for his political activities, said the system has become a source of income for the police, who can extort bribes from detainees seeking early release.

The system also keeps China’s labor costs down, he said, because worker camps provide low-cost prison labor that competes with the regular work force.

All three dissidents said it is too early to make a judgment on the new Chinese leadership of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who formally took power in March from President Jiang Zemin.

Mr. Wang said power struggles are still under way among the leadership and that he sees Mr. Hu and his allies as part of a “transitional generation” that is not likely to press strongly for democratic reforms.

He said he does not believe that China’s growing prosperity would necessarily lead to political liberalization.

“The future of China’s leadership is anybody’s guess,” Miss Tong added.

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