FIVE pro-democracy activists have begun a 15-day hunger strike in front of the White House in Washington to protest against China's continual suppression of dissent and called for the release of political prisoners.
The hunger strike was the latest in a series of activities planned by dissidents in exile to put pressure on US President Bill Clinton not to overlook the plight of political dissidents in China when he decides whether or not to renew China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status this week.
It was believed that Mr Clinton would be likely to extend China's MFN this year despite the fact that such a decision might face strong opposition from Congress.
The five hunger strikers are: former Tiananmen Square student leader, Zhang Boli; All-America Chinese Student Autonomous Union chairman, Lin Changsheng; China Christian Democracy Alliance vice-chairman, Zhao Xiaowei; Human Rights in China Foreign Affairs deputy secretary-general, Yang Lijun; and China Free Democratic Party Maryland representative, Duan Changshun.
In a joint statement issued over the weekend, the hunger strikers called on Mr Clinton to continue to put pressure on Beijing.
''We urge President Clinton to stand by his pledge: no human rights, no MFN,'' the statement said.
While the statement called for unconditional release of all political prisoners, it specifically named seven veteran dissidents, Wei Jinsheng, Fu Shenqi, Ren Wanding, former Communist Party official Bao Tong, scholar Yuan Hongbing and labour activists Zhou Guoqiang and Liu Gang.
Meanwhile, the human rights watchdog, Human Rights in China (HRIC), has issued a rebuttal of a denial by the Chinese Foreign Ministry of an earlier report published by the HRIC and Human Rights Watch/Asia.
The statement stood by the report, The Price of Obscurity , saying its information was reliable and supported by facts.
In the report, the two human rights bodies said that at least 522 Chinese citizens have been jailed but never publicly accounted for by the Chinese Government for taking part in the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
As many as 220 of these 522 victims were still serving sentences at the Beijing No 2 Prison and Qinghe Labour Farm.
On Saturday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry described the 60-page report as ''sheer fabrication'' and accused the Human Rights Watch/Asia as an organisation which has a ''deep hostility towards China''.
But the HRIC said that it was willing to bear ''legal responsibility'' of the report.
The group has also faxed the home addresses of the 145 victims who were identified as prisoners jailed in the Qinghe Labour Farm to the Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Government-run Xinhua (the New China News Agency) and challenged them to prove which parts of the report were ''fabricated''.
Another event planned by dissidents in exile is a conference at the University of California at Berkeley this weekend.
Dozens of prominent dissidents, including the newly-freed ''Tiananmen Square blackhand'' Wang Juntao, are expected to attend the conference which will focus on the human rights situation in China.
Human Rights in China