China Intervenes to Keep Mao Portrait Protester Detained in Thailand

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The defaced portrait of late supreme leader Mao Zedong on Tiananmen Square, 1989. Photo: AFP/Files

HONG KONG-Under pressure from China, Thailand has barred a former Chinese bus driver sentenced to 16 years in prison for defacing a portrait of Mao Zedong from flying to Canada to seek political asylum, Radio Free Asia (RFA) has learned.

"Something unexpected has happened," Lu Decheng said Friday in an interview with RFA's Mandarin service. "We will try to appeal to the higher-ups. I hope it will work. I feel guilty that I have caused trouble for everybody. I am grateful to everybody for their help."

Lu served just over nine years of a 16-year jail term before being paroled early in 1998. He fled through Burma to Thailand in November 2004 and was arrested by Thai police in December 2004. He has remained in an immigration detention center since.

He had been scheduled to leave Thailand for Canada on March 14 under a resettlement program run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

All arrangements cancelled

One of Lu's five Canadian immigration sponsors, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Chen, said he received an e-mail from the Canadian Embassy in Thailand informing him that the Chinese government had asked the Thai government to prevent Lu from leaving for Canada.

"Lu Decheng told me Feb. 21 that all arrangements had been made for him to travel to Canada on March 14. But then the Chinese government found out about it and applied pressure on the Thai government. And now the Thai government will not release him," Chen told RFA Mandarin service reporter Xi Hong from his home in Calgary.

Calls to the detention center where Lu is being held went unanswered during office hours Friday.

In 1989, Lu Decheng, along with Yu Zhijian and Yu Dongyue, traveled from Hunan to Beijing to participate in the pro-democracy protests. The three men defaced the portrait of Mao Zedong that hangs over Tiananmen Square, for which Lu was sentenced to 16 years in jail, Yu Zhijian was sentenced to life, and Yu Dongyue was sentenced to 20 years.

Last of three men freed in February

Chen said he and Lu's other sponsors would seek help from Canadian parliamentarians and human rights organizations and urge Ottawa to petition Bangkok for Lu's release.

Chinese authorities last month released the last of the three men, former newspaper editor Yu Dongyue. Yu left Chishan Prison, Yuanjiang city in the central province of Hunan Feb. 22.

Asked about Yu Dongyue's physical condition, his sister, Yu Rixia said at the time: "His health is not very good. He can not manage his own personal chores. The priority now is for him to adjust to the current situation and hope that his health can be gradually improved... He acts like a 3- or 4 year-old boy, and he can't take interviews," she said. "He has no logical thinking now."

Pressure for men's release

His mother, Wu Pinghua, said the family had been warned against spreading news of her son's release, or of allowing friends and relatives to come and visit him.

Dozens of fellow Tiananmen veterans signed an online petition in support of Lu and Yu Dongyue, including former student leader Wang Dan, exiled China Democracy Party founders Xu Wenli and Wang Youcai, and Pittsburgh-based poet Huang Xiang.

The three men came from the same hometown, where Lu Decheng and Yu Zhijian were playmates as children, while Yu Zhijian and Yu Dongyue were classmates at school.

Before they defaced the Mao portrait on May 23, 1989, all three had been active in the pro-democracy movement in the provincial capital Changsha. They had traveled to Beijing in mid-May that year to join thousands of demonstrators on Tiananmen Square.

Yu Dongyue, Lu, and Yu Zhijian were handed over to national security police after prolonged negotiations with the student command on the Square, a decision Lu and Yu Zhijian regard as having been made with the broader interests of the student movement in mind.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xi Hong. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Zhou. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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