HONG KONG—The Chinese authorities are set to release a 72-year-old man sentenced to six years in jail for helping to organize a would-be opposition party, just weeks before a U.S. visit by President Hu Jintao.
Tong Shidong’s sentence was reduced from six years to three years and three months, his friend and fellow activist Liu Jianong told RFA’s Cantonese service.
“He will be released tomorrow,” Liu said, adding that Tong had been allowed relatively few visits during his sentence. “Only his niece and some students went to visit him in jail. I went to visit him three times.”
Liu said Tong, a retired physics professor, hoped to be allowed to leave as soon as possible for the United States, where he has a brother and a sister.
They arrest them and use them as hostages. Then they release them when some issues are coming up. This time may be related to the visit of Hu Jintao to the U.S. There is no loosening of restrictions on freedom of speech in China. Controls are still very tight,
“He has probably arrived at some compromise with the authorities,” he said.
Tong was detained on June 10, 1999, the same day as Hunan labor organizer Liao Shihua.
Both were involved in an attempt to set up a branch of the banned China Democracy Party (CDP) in the central province and were reportedly collaborating on a party journal entitled Opposition Party .
Tong was sentenced to four years for subversion and three years for gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic.
The court combined the two sentences into a single six-year prison term with subsequent deprivation of political rights for one year, the U.S.-based Dui Hua Foundation said in a statement on its Web site.
Liao was released from Hunan’s Chishan Prison at the conclusion of his sentence on June 9, 2005, according to information provided by the Chinese government, Dui Hui said.
Elsewhere, some commentators linked Tong’s release to a forthcoming visit by President Hu to the United States.
“It’s the way of the Chinese government in dealing with dissidents,” Szeto Wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, told RFA.
“They arrest them and use them as hostages. Then they release them when some issues are coming up. This time may be related to the visit of Hu Jintao to the U.S,” he said. “There is no loosening of restrictions on freedom of speech in China. Controls are still very tight.”
Tong is expected to be released from Chishan Prison on Thursday, according to an e-mail sent to the Dui Hua Foundation by the Chinese authorities.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Lee King-man. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.