2 March 2004

Reporters Without Borders concerned about health of cyberdissident He Depu

The health of jailed cyberdissident He Depu has seriously deteriorated as a result of ill-treatment he has been subjected to, his wife Jian Jianying said after being allowed to visit him at Beijing municipal jail for the first time since his arrest.

He is suffering from dizziness and deafness as a result of blows to the head and has lost nearly 30 kilos in weight, she said.

Reporters Without Borders expressed its deep concern and called on the Chinese Justice Minister, Zhang Fusen, to transfer him to hospital where he can receive appropriate treatment.

Jia Jianying has asked for better prison conditions for her husband. The prison authorities suggested that she should "keep quiet" during the entire duration of the People's National Congress that ends on 20 March. Her employer at Beijing Hospital also gave her to understand that he had received orders from "above" that she should not leave her home outside working hours, until 20 March.

Reporters Without Borders said it was appalled by the eight-year prison sentenced passed on cyber-dissident He Depu by a Beijing court in a five-minute hearing today, and the organisation called on the Chinese prime minister to release him immediately on medical grounds

"He Depu has a serious liver ailment, he has received no treatment since his arrest on 4 November 2002 and he seemed very weak at today's hearing," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "We fear that he will not survive such a long period in prison."

Recalling that the transfer of power to the new leadership of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had given rise to hopes of liberalisation, Ménard added : "We now see that this liberalisation was just economic and that the Chinese authorities are continuing to clamp down on cyber-dissidents."

He Depu was tried in a two-hour hearing on 14 October for collaborating with the banned China Democracy Party, of which he is a member, and for posting essays on the Internet that "incited subversion." He is one of the activists who signed an open letter in November 2002 calling on the Chinese authorities to introduce political reforms. Four other signatories, Jiang Lijun, Zhao Changqing, Ouyang Yi and Dai Xuezhong, have also been tried for subversion.

He Depu's wife, Jia Jianying, said that throughout today's hearing, which consisted solely of the reading of the verdict and sentence, he did not stop shouting calls for democracy and criticism of China's one-party system. When the reading of the sentence was completed, the judge did not ask him if he wanted to appeal, although judges are always supposed to put this question after passing sentence, Jia said.

Jia also told Reporters Without Borders that she was very worried about her husband's health. The authorities at the detention centre where he is being held have until now refused to let his family send him medicine. She said she hoped this ban would be lifted when he is transferred to a prison, noting that he had visibly deteriorated during his detention.

He Depu was born on 28 October 1956. He took part in the democracy wall movement in 1979 and founded the magazine Beijing Youth, which was subsequently banned. He helped found the China Democracy Party, also outlawed, and was detained several times for his political activities. He lost his job with the Social Sciences Academy after standing as a candidate in local elections in 1990.

Seven cyber-dissidents have been tried or have had appeal hearings in the past five days and a currently awaiting sentence. Another Internet activist was arrested on 29 October. A total of 39 people are currently in prison in China because of the messages they have posted on the Internet.