London, 18 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The worldwide human rights group, Amnesty International, yesterday welcomed the release of China's best known dissident, Wei Jingsheng, but regretted that his release was not unconditional.
Wei Jingsheng was freed from prison two days ago on medical parole and sent to the United States for medical treatment. The 47-year-old dissident had spent most of the past 18 years in prison, except for a brief period of freedom in 1993.
Amnesty International said in a statement: "This is great news for Wei Jingsheng, however, the terms of his release may mean he will be in exile for a long time, as he may be sent back to prison to serve the rest of his sentence if he returns to China."
Wei Jingsheng was serving a 14-year prison sentence for "subversion" due to expire in 2009. Under Chinese law, prisoners released on medical parole may be returned to prison at any time to serve the rest of their sentence after receiving medical treatment outside of prison.
Amnesty International said: "We hope the Chinese authorities will allow him to return to China a free man if he so wishes. Wei Jingsheng should not have been imprisoned in the first place. He was jailed solely for expressing his views and having contacts with dissidents and other people during the few months he was out of prison in 1993."
The statement added: "We also hope his release will pave the way for other releases of prisoners of conscience." The London-based human rights group said more than 2,000 people convicted of "counter-revolutionary" offenses remain in prison in China, according to official sources, and the number of people detained for the peaceful exercise of their fundamental human rights, some without charge or trial, is much higher."
Wei Jingsheng was first detained in 1979 and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment on "counter-revolutionary" charges for his peaceful activities during the Democracy Wall movement of the late 1970s. He was released on parole in September, 1993, after serving all but six months of his sentence, but was rearrested in April, 1994. After being held for nearly 20 months without charge or trial, he was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment in December, 1995, after being convicted of "engaging in activities in an attempt to overthrow the government."
The Amnesty statement said: "His health, already affected by many years of imprisonment in harsh conditions, further deteriorated after his re-arrest. Over the past year, his family reported that he was suffering from high blood pressure, possible damage to his cervical vertebrae, infection in his gums and other complaints."
The statement said: "At the Tangshan labor camp, he was held with common criminal prisoners and reportedly beaten by them on several occasions. In June, 1997, according to his family, he was severely beaten by a fellow prisoner while a prison guard looked on without intervening."