China�s political prisoners, many of whom are serving lengthy jail terms for trying to start a political party using legal channels, are subject to neglect, malnourishment, and ill-treatment inside the country�s jails, a group of activists has written to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, RFA�s Mandarin service reports.

A group of activists from the outlawed China Democracy Party (CDP) issued an open letter to Cheney and his Chinese counterpart Zeng Qinghong at the start of Cheney�s two-day visit to Beijing, which is expected to focus on Taiwan, North Korea, Iraq, and economic and trade relations.

�The jailed members of the CDP are not getting cared for properly, have become ill with all kinds of diseases, don�t get enough to eat, and are even ill-treated and beaten,� said the letter.

�On the occasion of the meeting of the two vice heads of state, we have the responsibility to demand that state prison authorities improve prison conditions, raise the quality of food, strengthen the medical care, and end the surveillance and insulting treatment of political prisoners,� said the letter, which was e-mailed to Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.

The letter also listed 16 CDP members serving jail terms of up to 20 years, and another group of political prisoners awaiting trial. Among the signatories were leading pro-democracy activists Ren Wanding and Xu Wanping.

�The crackdown on the CDP proves that our nation�s most cherished political freedom is the freedom of association and the freedom to form political parties,� the letter said. �There is no power in China that can stop the voice of freedom and democracy.�

Some dissidents and their families had their mobility restricted or were summoned for questioning before Cheney�s visit, sources said.

�Police are around the house, telling me �Cheney is visiting, so you cannot go out,�" Hua Huiqi said. "It started last night. I was also put under watch from the eve of the Chinese New Year until the tenth day of the New Year�and again from Feb . 14 -March 16. ... And then on March 20, the day of Taiwan�s referendum, I was under watch again, and they told me specifically it was because of the Taiwan referendum.�

�The police have told me outright that my home phone is monitored,� he said.

Jia Jianying, whose husband He Depu was a founder of the CDP and remains in jail, said she was summoned to the local police office Tuesday for questioning.

�I stayed for 2-1/2 hours. They didn�t ask me anything of importance, just sort of chatting,� she said. �But I felt they just didn�t want me to stay at home for fear that someone might come to see me. They also told me that they were going to follow me to my work unit tomorrow.�

Activists across China attempted to register the CDP through legal means in many cities across the country in 1998. Founder Wang Youcai, who was recently released on medical parole, set up the Zhejiang Branch of the CDP on June 25, 1998 and drew up the group�s constitution. He was sentenced in December 1998 to 11 years� imprisonment for subversion by the Hangzhou Intermediate People�s Court.

Fellow CDP founder and Ren�s fellow activist from the 1979 Democracy Wall movement Xu Wenli was released on medical parole in December 2002. Co-founder Qin Yongmin is still serving a 12-year sentence for endangering state security in the central province of Hubei Province.

In a recent interview from Xu�s home in Rhode Island, Wang told RFA that going to prison was an inevitable part of China�s journey to democratic reform.

�Going to prison is a sure thing at the beginning of this process. The pro-democracy activists in Taiwan also went to jail. There is no way around this,� Wang said, adding that he had fully expected to do time for seeking to set up the China Democracy Party (CDP) legally in 1998.

Wang, 37, said he had agreed reluctantly to his release in early March, five-and-a-half years before the end of his 11-year sentence, when prison doctors told him he was seriously ill. �There are some things which are beyond my control,� he said. �I will get my health checked out, and if I�m not ill I will try to go back to China.� #####


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