HONG KONG—Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan are preparing to try a former leader of China’s 1989 student movement, a U.S. resident, for “economic fraud” after he tried to visit his ailing father in 2008.
Zhou Yongjun was a student at the Chinese University for Political Science and Law at the time of the student protests and ensuing military crackdown on June 4, 1989.
He was among a group of students who knelt in front of the Great Hall of the People on April 22 to present a list of demands to China’s leaders after the death of moderate premier Hu Yaobang.
“I am not sure of the exact date, but I heard it would be the 19th or the 20th of this month,” an employee who answered the phone at the Shehong County People’s Court said.
“The time has already been decided.”
But Zhou’s lawyer, Chen Zerui, said the court had already set many temporary dates.
“They set Aug. 25, and before than Aug. 23. No sooner than they set it, they change it again. They have the power to do this within the guidelines, however,” he said.
Chen said the court had withheld some documents from him, and would not let him photocopy them, meaning that he had no way to fully grasp the case against Zhou.
“We have some of the evidence, but there is some evidence that is only listed by title, with no content,” said Chen, who called on the court to let him see all the evidence against Zhou.
“The court should make evidence available to the defense attorney now that we are in the trial stage,” Chen said.
“Plus, they are supposed to supply photocopying facilities. They have not done so. I have never come across this before.”
Chen, assistant to top Beijing-based lawyer Mo Shaoping, was appointed only in late August after Zhou’s family tried to hire Mo to defend him in May.
Police responded by telling the family Zhou wished to appoint a local lawyer rather than Mo, but none could be found who would take the case.
Zhou’s sister Zhou Shufen, herself a court official, said the case had generated a huge amount of political pressure for her.
“I really can’t talk about this right now,” she said. “I don’t even dare to ask about my brother’s case myself.”
Zhou, who is a permanent resident of the United States with two children, was detained in the wake of the June 4 crackdown and released in 1991 following international political pressure for the release of student leaders.
He arrived in the United States in 1992, and was granted permanent residency.
Seeking to return to China to visit his sick father, Zhuo was arrested last year in Shenzhen after repeated requests for an official permit to return to China were turned down by the Chinese embassy in the United States.
“The Hong Kong Immigration Department confiscated his passport and then told him there were some people who wanted to talk to him in mainland China,” Chen said.
“They took him to Shenzhen.”
Chen dismissed the fraud charges against Zhou.
“This is a trumped-up charge: there has been no fraud. I have seen the letter written while he was in the custody of the Hong Kong police. [Zhou] denies that he wrote this letter.”
Zhou’s cases highlights the situation of dozens of Chinese political activists who have been allowed to leave China and sought asylum in the United States, but are now unable to get permission to return to visit relatives.
U.S.-based dissidents attended a conference Tuesday in New York calling on Beijing to allow former June 4 activists to return home.
Participant Yang Jianli said any movement from the Chinese authorities on the issue of exiled dissidents would be a breakthrough.
“It’s not just about returning to China. There are also a lot of our friends inside China who aren’t allowed to leave,” Yang said.
New Year push
New Zealand-based Chinese dissident Wang Ningze has called on fellow exiled Chinese to rush immigration barriers in a campaign entitled “I want to go home for Lunar New Year.”
“If we had freedom of movement in both directions, there would be greater communication on both sides, and I think that China’s progress would be quicker and more widespread as a result.”
Legal affairs expert Xiang Xiaoji said that preventing Chinese nationals overseas from returning home violates China’s Constitution and international law.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Tze Jue. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.