China to Release Last Known Tiananmen Prisoner

According to the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, 51-year-old Miao Deshun, the last known person still serving time in relation to the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, is expected to be released this October after spending 27 years in prison. At The Wall Street Journal, Josh Chin reports:

The Dui Hua Foundation learned about Mr. Miao’s impending release after it submitted a request to the Chinese government for an update on his situation earlier this year, the group said in a statement released on Tuesday.

More than 1,600 Chinese citizens were sentenced to prison in the wake of the bloody June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and their supporters that was beamed onto television sets around the world. Mr. Miao’s punishment came two months after the soldiers crushed the protest movement; a Beijing court found him guilty of arson for throwing a basket on a burning tank.

He was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, which was later commuted to life in prison. He has cut off contact with his family, according to human rights groups, but former fellow prisoners have said he stood out for refusing to do prison labor or express regret over his participation in the protests. For a while, rumors circulated that he might have died.

Mr. Miao, now 51 years old, suffers from hepatitis B and schizophrenia and was transferred in 2003 to Beijing’s Yanqing Prison, known for housing sick and disabled prisoners, according to Dui Hua. […] [Source]

The New York Times’ Austin Ramzy reports on the potential reason for Miao’s heavy sentence, his time in prison as described by those who met him there, and Dui Hua’s years of petitioning for his release:

Mr. Miao, 51, was a worker from Hebei Province, and his harsh sentence may have been connected to his lowly status. Workers involved in the protests generally received longer jail terms than students.

Former prisoners who knew Mr. Miao recalled him as extremely thin, and one said that guards would not shackle him, probably because he did not have the strength to move with chains around his feet, the BBC reported in 2014.

[… Dui Hua] had raised Mr. Miao’s case in 17 prisoner lists submitted to the Chinese authorities since 2005. He was given a one-year sentence reduction in 2012, and his sentence was reduced again in March for good behavior, making him eligible for release in October. [Source]

Dui Hua’s press release quotes the organization’s executive director on Miao’s expected release later this year:

“Miao Deshun, the last known prisoner serving a sentence for a crime committed during the June 1989 disturbances in Beijing, is due to be released from Yanqing Prison in less than six months,” said John Kamm, Executive Director of The Dui Hua Foundation. “We welcome this news, and express the hope that he will receive the care he needs to resume a normal life after spending more than half of it behind bars.” [Source]

The Guardian’s Tom Phillips relays former Tiananmen prisoner Zhang Yansheng’s speculation that the China waiting for Miao, much changed by the last three decades, will likely be quite a shock:

Life outside prison is unlikely to be easy for Miao, who is reported to have multiple health problems.

Zhang Yansheng, a fellow Tiananmen convict who was released on parole in 2003, told the US-funded Radio Free Asia he had spent time in prison with Miao and suspected he would struggle to understand “today’s China”.

“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. I have a pretty hard time myself right now, but it’ll be even worse for him,” Zhang said. [Source]

The June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing and elsewhere in China remains a sensitive subject in China, where discussion of the movement and its quashing is strictly prohibited. A younger generation of overseas Chinese students, however, last year made an attempt to revive its memory by penning an open letter calling for accountability and transparency; the students were castigated by the Global Times, and that castigation was quickly ordered offline by censors.

May 4, 2016 8:58 AM
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