02/23/2006, 00.00
CHINA

Man who defaced Mao's portrait freed after 17 years

The man, a young journalist when he was arrested in 1989, was released yesterday. He was charged and jailed with two friends. At least 70 other people are still in prison from the 1989 protests.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Yu Dongyue, who spent 17 years in prison for throwing paint-filled eggs at the Tiananmen Square portrait of Mao Zedong during the 1989 pro-democracy protests, was freed yesterday. But many more dissidents are still languishing in Chinese gulags.

Yu, 39, was a journalist from Hunan province. In June 1989 he was sentenced to 20 years for "counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement" after he and two friends defaced Mao's portrait the previous May. All three received heavy prison sentences.  

Mr Yu's prison term was cut by three years and three months. Lu Decheng, 43, received a 16-year term but was released early in 1998, while Yu Zhijian, 43, was given a life sentence but released in 2000.

In prison Mr Yu was tortured and has suffered mental problems. "He didn't seem to recognise me. When I called him 'brother', he did not respond," said Yu Xiyue, Yu Dongyue's brother.

"I talked to him, but his responses were incomprehensible. I didn't understand what he said. [. . .] He was just smiling at everyone."

Before being detained in Liuyang city last Sunday for taking part in a hunger strike to protest against the persecution of activists, Yu Zhijian said that as well as wishing to see Yu Dongyue well again, he wanted the public to have a positive understanding of the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

"It's a terrible tragedy that these three young men have had their lives ruined," said John Kamm, executive director of US-based Dui Hua Foundation.

According to the foundation's database some 70 dissidents linked to the 1989 protests are still imprisoned. Other international organisations put the number of activists from the 1989 Tiananmen protest movement still in China's gulags, i.e. in Lao Gai camps (prison work camps), in the thousands. (PB)

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