China is planning to release the last, and longest-serving, prisoner jailed in connection with the 1989 pro-democracy protests centered on Tiananmen Square, a US-based rights group reported.
Miao Deshun was handed a suspended death sentence at the age of 25 after he allegedly flung something at a burning tank belonging to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) during clashes amid a bloody military crackdown on the weeks-long student-led democracy movement.
A worker from Hebei province, which borders Beijing, Miao was recently granted an 11-month reduction in sentence, and is set to be released from Beijing Yangqing prison on Oct. 15, the Dui Hua Foundation said in a statement on its website.
Miao and four colleagues were found guilty of the charges against him by the Beijing Intermediate People's Court on Aug. 7, 1989, and Miao's suspended death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and further reduced to 20 years in 1998.
Fellow 1989 activist Zhang Yansheng, who was himself released on parole in 2003 after being jailed for life in the wake of the protests, said Miao now has severe mental health problems.
New life on the outside
"He has some severe mental health issues, and I think it could take him a long time to get accustomed to life on the outside," said Zhang, who developed diabetes during his time in prison. "I have a pretty hard time myself right now, but it'll be even worse for him."
"I was lucky enough to find a job with the help of some kind people and good friends, which means that at least I can eat," he said. "I expect he won't have much understanding of today's China, but we will help each other out."
Although has also spent some time in solitary confinement, Miao's sentence has been reduced twice since 2012 for good behavior, Dui Hua Foundation said.
"Miao has had no contact with the outside world for many years," the Dui Hua statement said. "People who served sentences with him in the 1990s remember him as a very thin man who refused to admit wrongdoing and participate in prison labor."
Miao, 51, suffers from hepatitis B and schizophrenia, and was transferred to a ward for sick, elderly, and disabled prisoners in 2003. His family hasn't visited him since Miao asked them to stop 10 years ago. He was one of 1,602 people sentenced to prison in connection with the 1989 protests across China, Dui Hua cited official records as saying.
However, many more were locked up using administrative sentences, which could have included up to three years in the now-abolished "re-education through labor" camps.
Dui Hua said it has worked "tirelessly" on Miao’s case, putting his name on 17 prisoner lists submitted to the Chinese government since 2005.
"As of today, Miao Deshun is the only Tiananmen prisoner known to Dui Hua to still be in prison," the group said.
Hong Kong activist Richard Choi, of the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, said the length of Miao's sentence was a "tragedy."
A long way to go
"I think that once they have released everybody, the most important thing is a political reappraisal of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, and for them to pursue those who were responsible for the massacre, as well as working for a democratic China," Choi said.
"There is still a very long way to go."
Last month, Choi's group said its Hong Kong-based museum commemorating the 1989 student-led democracy movement will be forced to close by the end of this year, amid growing political pressure.
The death of ousted former premier Hu Yaobang of a heart attack in
1989 prompted a massive public outpouring of grief on Tiananmen Square, sparking several weeks of student-led pro-democracy protests and hunger strikes that ended amid a bloody military crackdown by the PLA, which advanced into Beijing on the night of June 3 that year.
The Communist Party currently bans public memorials marking the June 4 massacre, and has continued to ignore growing calls in China and from overseas for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which it once styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989, remains a mystery.
Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but the central government has never issued an official toll or list of names, in spite of repeated calls by the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.