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Chinese Hijacker Appeals for Political Asylum

January 31, 1990

TOKYO (AP) _ A Chinese man who hijacked a Chinese airliner to Japan in December asked Wednesday for political asylum, saying the act was his last-ditch attempt to flee political persecution.

Zhang Zhenhai, of China’s Hebei province, said in a statement released through his Japanese lawyers that he would face the death penalty in China because he had joined in the pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing last June.

Zhang, who faces possible repatriation under international law, said that before the hijacking, he had failed twice to escape China by land due to tight security after the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators.

″Please do not send me back to China,″ his statement asked of the Japanese government. ″Please give me freedom ... or repatriate me only after my execution (in Japan).″

Zhang, 35, hijacked the plane on Dec. 16, threatening to blow it up with a bomb that he did not actually have. The Boeing 747, on a flight from Beijing to New York with 233 people aboard, flew to Fukuoka in western Japan after South Korea refused to let it land there.

After landing, Zhang was shoved out of the plane by a crew member and was hospitalized with a broken pelvis. The plane was returned to China on Dec. 17 with 208 passengers on board, including Zhang’s wife and 13-year-old son.

Zhang was transferred from a hospital to a jail in Fukuoka on Dec. 31, and sent to a detention house in Tokyo Jan. 11.

The Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office is studying what action to take against Zhang. Action is likely in March, when his condition is expected to improve, said Masahiro Sumita, one of Zhang’s three Japanese lawyers.

China has demanded Zhang’s return, and China’s state-run TV has carried brief reports on the hijacking, adding that Zhang had been arrested in October on charges of embezzling from a factory.

Japanese officials, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Mayumi Moriyama, have maintained that even if Zhang’s claim is true, hijacking is still a serious crime.

Kazuyo Iwaki, another Japanese lawyer, has said that Zhang claimed he had been arrested twice in connection with pro-democracy demonstrations in China.

On Wednesday, Sumita, Ms. Iwaki and a third lawyer, Yaeko Takeoka, notified the prosecutors office that they would represent Zhang until the Tokyo High Court decides whether to sent him back to China.

″Next week we will apply to the court for Zhang’s status as a refugee,″ Sumita said.

Sumita said he and the other two lawyers have volunteered to represent Zhang free of charge ″for humanity’s sake.″ In a case like Zhang’s, each of the three lawyers normally would charge about $7,000 in fees if the case were settled in a few months, he added.

Update hourly