Journalist who defaced Mao's portrait freed after 16 years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2006, 12:00am

A Hunan journalist jailed for throwing paint-filled eggs at the Tiananmen Square portrait of Mao Zedong in 1989 was released yesterday.

Yu Dongyue, 39, was reportedly tortured and suffered a mental breakdown in prison. He was collected from a prison in Yuanjiang city in Hunan by his brother, Yu Xiyue, 33, who was only notified of the pending release on Tuesday.

Yu Dongyue, a journalist and art critic with Hunan's Liuyang News, was jailed in June 1989 for 20 years for 'counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement' after he and two friends defaced the portrait the previous May. In 2000, he received a two-year sentence reduction and a 15-month reduction in 2003.

His co-accused, Lu Decheng , 43, a bus driver, received a 16-year term and was released early in 1998, while high school teacher Yu Zhijian , 43, was given a life sentence but released in 2000. It is not clear why Yu Dongyue was kept in jail after Yu Zhijian, who is not a blood relative, was released.

Asked if Yu Dongyue was able to speak to the press, Yu Xiyue said he was not sure if his brother could manage it. 'He didn't seem to recognise me. When I called him 'brother', he did not respond,' Yu Xiyue said.

'I talked to him, but his responses were incomprehensible. I didn't understand what he said. It was not Putonghua, or the home town [Hunan] dialect, or English. He was just smiling at everyone.'

He said that although Yu Dongyue looked physically normal, he had put on weight. 'As long as he is still alive, it is good. If he has illnesses, we can cure him,' he said, adding Yu Dongyue would be taken to hospital for a checkup after settling him down.

Yu Dongyue's mother, Wu Pinghua , 57, said that although she was a party member, she did not hold a grudge against her son. 'I don't blame him. I'm happy as long as he's back,' she cried.

Mr Lu, who is being detained in Bangkok while he awaits the outcome of an application for political asylum after fleeing China in late 2004, welcomed Yu Dongyue's release, according to a friend who visited him yesterday morning.

'He [Mr Lu] looked agitated and there were tears in his eyes. He was thankful for this important news,' said the friend.

Before being detained in Liuyang city last Sunday for taking part in a hunger strike to protest against the persecution of activists, Yu Zhijian said that as well as wishing to see Yu Dongyue well again, he wanted the public to have a positive understanding of the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

John Kamm, executive director of US-based Dui Hua Foundation, said: 'It's a terrible tragedy that these three young man have had their lives ruined. It's one of the saddest cases I have worked on.'

Mr Kamm said the foundation's database still listed about 70 dissidents linked to the 1989 protests as being in jail.