Human rights in China

Chinese dissident writer Yang Tongyan dies on medical parole

The 56-year-old had been released from Nanjing Prison in August following his diagnosis with an aggressive form of brain cancer

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 10:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 10:09pm

A veteran Chinese dissident who had nearly completed a 12-year prison sentence for “subversion” has died on medical parole, rights groups said on Wednesday.

Writer Yang Tongyan died on Tuesday, nearly three months after having surgery on August 23 to remove a brain tumour, Amnesty International said in a statement, citing information from close friends.

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Rights groups said a pattern had emerged in recent years where China released activists from prison in poor health, or only weeks before they passed away, with late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo being a notable example this summer.

News of the death emerged as US President Donald Trump, whose government urged China to release Liu before he died, arrived in Beijing for meetings with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

“The death of yet another long-term Chinese detainee on medical parole is alarming,” Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director at Amnesty International, said.

“There seems to be no accountability for the pattern of deaths on medical parole of people labelled by the authorities as ‘enemies of the state’,” he said.

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Yang was convicted in 2006 for posting anti-government articles online, after having already spent a decade in prison for “counter-revolutionary” crimes.

The 56-year-old had been released from Nanjing Prison on medical parole in August following his diagnosis with an “aggressive form of brain cancer”, PEN America said in a statement.

Yang was a 2008 recipient of PEN’s Freedom to Write Award and a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre.

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His death, less than four months after that of Liu Xiaobo, “is another black mark on the Chinese authorities’ human rights record”, Karin Karlekar, PEN America’s director of Free Expression at Risk Programmes, said.

Liu was detained in 2008 after co-writing Charter 08, a petition calling for democratic reforms.

The veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests died in July, more than a month after he was transferred from prison to a heavily guarded hospital to be treated for late-stage liver cancer.

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Dissident writers and activists have long received lengthy prison sentences in China for speaking out about issues the authorities deem politically sensitive.

In another case, Chinese authorities detained activist Cao Shunli in 2013 as she attempted to travel to Geneva ahead of a United Nations review of China’s rights record.

She died in custody after she was denied medical treatment, her family and lawyers said.

Agence France-Presse tried to phone Yang’s older sister, but an automated message said the number was not receiving incoming calls.

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When asked whether Yang had requested overseas treatment before his death, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she did not have any information.

Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, where Yang was treated according to sources, said its press department was not available to answer questions.

An officer at Nanjing Prison also refused to answer any questions.