An outspoken Chinese cyber-dissident has died after suffering from an untreated medical condition in jail, according to friends.
Zhang Jianhong died on Friday of muscular dystrophy in a hospital in the southern city of Ningbo. He had been released on medical parole from a six-year prison term, and is survived by his wife Dong Min and a daughter. He was 52.
Zhang, whose pen name was Li Hong, was editor-in-chief of the dissident website Aegean Sea [Ai Qinhai] when authorities closed it down in March 2006 for publishing content critical of the Chinese government.
He was arrested in September 2006 for “inciting subversion of state power” and was sentenced in early 2007 to six years in Qiaosi prison in China’s southern Zhejiang province. The sentence was upheld on appeal.
Shortly after being imprisoned, Zhang was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. But despite his failing health, prison officials denied his applications for medical parole in 2007 and the following year.
Zhang’s condition—a rare disorder that results in progressive muscular weakness—grew significantly worse in 2010, leading to his hospitalization in April in the Hangzhou Qingchun Hospital, a medical center administered by the prison.
Finally, and by then kept alive only by a respirator, Zhang was transferred on medical parole to a hospital in Ningbo city in Zhejiang province, where he died on Dec. 31.
His body was cremated on Jan. 2, with his ashes interred the same day in a public cemetery.
Zhu Yufu, a democracy activist in Zhejiang and one of Zhang’s closest friends, expressed his grief on Monday at Zhang’s death.
“I just wrote a pair of couplets to mourn Zhang, comparing him to a martyr in the 1911 Republican Revolution and likening today’s China to the waning years of the Qing dynasty,” Zhu said.
Zhu, a member of the banned China Democracy Party, said that police have kept him under close watch in recent days.
Zhu said that he plans to visit Zhang’s tomb once police are withdrawn from his house.
“I want to present my elegy to his tomb in person,” he said.
Another China Democracy Party member and friend of Zhang’s, Zhu Zhengming, said that police had warned dissidents in Hangzhou against traveling to Ningbo and had put many under surveillance.
“On Friday, when Li Hong died, police admonished us not to go to Ningbo [to mourn] during the next three days. They called every one of us, fearing we would spread the news,” Zhu said.
But word of Zhang’s death was quickly spread through the Internet.
Rights group comments
Human Rights Forum, an influential dissident group based in China’s southwestern province of Guizhou, published a statement expressing condolences on hearing the news of Zhang’s death.
Forum member Chen Xi, also referring to Zhang Jianhong by his pen name, Li Hong, condemned Zhang’s treatment by the prison in which he was held.
“Mr. Li Hong passed away at a young age. This was a direct result of long-time persecution by the Chinese Communist government,” Chen said.
“The charge of ‘inciting subversion’ was merely a farce,” he said.
Phone calls to Zhang’s wife and daughter went unanswered on Monday.
Zhang, born in 1958, was sent to a labor camp for two years in 1989 because of his involvement in widespread pro-democracy protests in China that year. After his release in 1991, he worked as a freelance writer and poet.
He was also a well-known novelist and playwright. His 32-episode TV drama series, “The Firm of Red Clothes,” played on China’s official CCTV network in 2006.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translation by Chen Ping. Written in English by Richard Finney.