Jailed Cyber-Dissident Battles Illness

An outspoken cyber-dissident's health is suffering badly in jail, his wife says.

2009.03.18
zhangjianhong-305.jpg Screen shot of a YouTube video covering the 2008 NED Democracy Award ceremony.
Photo: RFA

HONG KONG—The health of jailed Chinese cyber-dissident Zhang Jianhong, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, is worsening in prison and he can no longer write, according to his wife.

Prison officials have denied Zhang’s application for medical parole, Dong Min said in an interview.

“My husband is very sick now and he can no longer write. If the prison doesn’t allow him medical parole, he might lose the opportunity for treatment,” she said.

Prison officials have also forbidden Zhang from reading books related to politics and current affairs.

“I can bring him books of literature and art, but the prison did not let me give him books on politics,” she said.

...I can hardly move my arms any more."

Zhang Jianhong

Zhang, whose pen name is Li Hong, was working as editor-in-chief for the dissident Web site Aegean Sea when authorities closed it down in March 2006 for publishing content critical of the Chinese government.

Zhang was arrested in September 2006 for advocating political freedom online.

He was sentenced in early 2007 to six years in Qiaosi prison in China’s eastern Zhejiang province for allegedly defaming the government and subverting state power. His sentence was upheld on appeal.

Supporters say his condition—a rare disorder that results in progressive muscular weakness—has worsened markedly.

In a letter sent to his lawyer Li Jianqiang in June 2007, Zhang described his state of health.

“My illness is extremely rare. There is currently no effective medication or treatment. My health has worsened this last month and my muscles are atrophying,” the letter said.

“I can hardly move my arms any more and this will extend to my legs. If it goes on, I will suffer the terrible experience of being completely paralyzed like the British physicist, Stephen Hawking,” Zhang wrote.

Zhang, born in 1958, was sent to labor camp for two years in 1989 in connection with pro-democracy protests across China that year. From the time of his 1991 release, he worked as a freelance writer and poet.

Supporters say Qiaosi prison sent Zhang to the Zhejiang Prisons General Hospital for treatment but the medical care he received was inadequate.

Another dissident

Writer Du Daobin, who like Zhang is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, has also been denied reading materials in prison, his wife said.

Xia Chunrong said that when she visited her husband during the Chinese New Year season in February this year, she brought with her four translated books on philosophy and social sciences.

Officials at the prison where he is being held in China’s northeastern Hubei province refused to allow him the books even though they had been published in China, she said.

“They said they cannot let Du Daobin read foreign books, but they didn’t give a reason,” Xia said.

Du was arrested in October 2003 after publishing online articles overseas denouncing the crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement and calling for political reforms.

In June 2004, Du was sentenced in Hubei’s Xiaogan city to three years in prison and four years probation on charges of inciting subversion.

Du was released from court after receiving his sentence and confined to his home to serve his seven-year jail term.

But in July 2007, police returned Du to jail for publishing on foreign Web sites.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Chen Ping. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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