Reporters Without Borders deplores the renowned cyber-dissident Zhang Jianhong’s death in a hospital in Ningbo, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, as a result a disease that that was not treated during his three years in prison. Better known by the pen-name of Li Hong, he died aged 52 on 31 December, surrounded by police who were there to prevent visits from other dissidents.
Li Hong suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), a neurodegenerative ailment that causes progressive muscle atrophy. His health deteriorated dramatically during his last year in prison in the absence of treatment that would have checked the illness’s progress and improved his quality of life.
Reporters Without Borders blames the authorities for the decline in Li Hong’s health and the tragic outcome of his battle with the disease. Already ailing, he spent three years in prison in appalling conditions that included mistreatment and torture and this clearly exacerbated his illness. The authorities refused to grant him medical parole in 2007 and again in 2008. Reporters Without Borders had been expressing concern about his health and requesting his release since 2007 (read the article).
Arrested in 2006 and sentenced to six years in prison in 2007 (read the article), Li Hong was rushed to Hangzhou Quingchun hospital, the prison’s medical centre, in April 2010. He was hastily given a medical parole in June and was immediate taken to the hospital in Ningbo. By this stage, he was permanently on an artificial respirator.
Following the decline in his health, many dissidents wanted to visit him in Ningbo but the police stepped up their surveillance of the patient and warned them “not to take the risk.” The day he died, officials reportedly called dissidents and Li Hong’s relatives, banned them from coming to Ningbo for three days and urged them to say nothing about his death. The news of his death nonetheless circulated quickly online.
Li Hong was the editor of Aiqinhai (www.aiqinhai.org), an online literary magazine that was closed by the authorities in 2006 for “content critical of the Chinese government.” He wrote many articles for the site, some of them in support of the now-missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng after the authorities said they had released him from prison (read the article). He also wrote for the overseas Chinese news websites Boxun (www.boxun.com/) and Epoch Times (www.epochtimes.com/).
Reporters Without Borders calls on the Chinese authorities to learn the lessons from this tragedy and to immediately release other dissidents who health is suffering in detention, especially Huang Qi, Fan Yanqiong,Cheng Jianping, Hu Jia and Yang Tianshui.
Huang Qi was arrested in 2008 for posting articles online about the effects of that year’s earthquake in Sichuan and was sentenced the following year to three years in prison on a charge of illegal possession of state secrets. He now has two tumours, one in the stomach and one in the chest, which are not being treated properly. He has been tortured while in detention and deprived of sleep.
Cheng Jianping was sentenced on 15 November 2010 to a year of reeducation through work because of an ironic Tweet about the tension between China and Japan despite the fact that she suffers from tuberculous pleurisy, a chronic lung condition.
Arrested in 2009 for publicising the case of a young woman who was allegedly gang-raped by individuals with links to the police, the blogger Fan Yanqiong was sentenced to two years in prison in April 2010. At the time of her trial, she was suffering from high blood pressure, muscular atrophy and acute pain in all her limbs, and was having to use a wheel chair and oxygen mask.
The blogger and human rights activists Hu Jia was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008 on a charge of inciting subversion of state authority because of the articles he had posted online and the interviews he had given to foreign news media. He is not being given the medicine he needs for a serious liver ailment.
The cyber-dissident Yang Tianshui has contracted tuberculosis since being sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2006 for the articles he posted online. He is also suffering from severe arthritis, chronic renal insufficiency and high blood pressure.
In China, censorship does not stop when a dissident dies. The ashes of Liu Binyan, a Chinese journalist and writer who died in exile in the United States in 2005, have finally been returned to his family. But the authorities have banned the family from using the epitaph he wrote for himself: “The Chinese man who rests here did what he should have done and said what he should have said.” Liu wrote articles criticizing corruption and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.