China Frees 97, Including Student Leaders
BEIJING (AP) _ China announced today it had freed 97 more participants in last year’s democracy movement after the anniversary of the movement’s bloody demise passed with only a few small protests.
The releases bring to 881 the number freed in the past six months, out of thousands arrested. But new arrests have been reported as recently as last week.
For the first time, two top student leaders were among those freed. Xiong Wei and Zhou Fengsuo, both students at Qinghua University, were on the government’s list of 21 most-wanted students and were arrested last June.
Zhou was turned in by his sister and Xiong surrendered in his mother’s company, according to official accounts.
The No. 1 student on the list, Wang Dan, remains in jail. Five others on the list escaped abroad.
Of the 97 released, 21 had been jailed in Shanghai, a brief Xinhua News Agency report said. They included Yao Yongzhan, a Hong Kong student who was released Tuesday, the Hong Kong government reported. There was no word on when he would be allowed to return home.
Rumors that a release was imminent circulated in Beijing last week. The government waited until after the anniversary Sunday and Monday of last year’s army attack on student-led protesters in Beijing, in which hundreds and possibly thousands of people died.
Soldiers and police patrolled Beijing in force on both days to head off any commemorative protests, and were largely successful.
The only major incident, a rally Sunday night by hundreds of Beijing University students, was confined to the campus. Students on other campuses expressed their anger by smashing beer bottles, and several non-students held small protests near Tiananmen Square.
Xinhua said the 97 were given lenient treatment after having ″voluntarily confessed their wrongdoings and expressed a willingness to repent.″ None had been charged or tried.
″Those who obstinately stick to an incorrect course and refuse to repent will be punished strictly in accordance with the law,″ Xinhua said.
The protests last year began as a student movement and escalated into a massive nationwide outcry against the Communist Party’s heavy-handed ad increasingly corrupt rule.
Senior leader Deng Xiaoping and other aging revolutionaries who ordered the crackdown maintain that a small group of plotters orchestrated the protests in an effort to topple the party.
They have rejected Western descriptions of the jailed protesters as political prisoners, and sentenced many to long terms. Twenty people have been executed, according to official reports, and many more by unofficial accounts.
The releases did not signify a softening on the part of the party, but an attempt to put the turmoil behind it, ease deep-seated domestic anger over the crackdown and restore badly damaged relations with the West.
Many of those freed earlier remain under forms of probation, and many have lost their jobs or been expelled from school - harsh punishment in a system where most jobs are assigned.
China announced in January that it had freed 573 people and in May that a second group of 211 were released, including several well-known academics and a famous journalist, Dai Qing.
It said then that only 431 people were still being held for investigation. That figure left thousands unaccounted for, suggesting that it did not include those already sentenced.
Among the most prominent people still jailed are Chen Zimin, the head of a non-government social research institute that has since been closed down; Liu Xiaobo, 34, a college lecturer; and Bao Zunxin, a fellow at the Institute of History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Six students on the most-wanted list are known to be still jailed. Five escaped abroad, and the whereabouts of eight are not known.