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US Lawmakers Highlight Plight of Chinese Dissident


U.S. lawmakers have renewed a call for China's government to free a woman who has campaigned against Beijing's one-child family policies.

The case of Mao Hengfeng, a former factory worker in Shanghai and mother of two, continues to be cited by lawmakers focusing on her case as an example of what New Jersey Republican Congressman Chris Smith calls China's systematic abuse of its one child policy.

"Mrs. Mao clearly is the most egregious example, and the most recent, of China's mistreatment of women who do not comply with China's draconian policies," said Congressman Smith. "But there are thousands and thousands of other victims."

Amnesty International reported last month that she had been tortured and denied proper medical care in the course of serving an 18-month jail sentence in a Chinese re-education camp. She has been protesting against official family-planning policies since she was dismissed from her job 15 years ago, after having a forced abortion.

Along with Republican Congressman Smith, Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos has been a key critic of China's family planning policies. He says Chinese authorities have subjected Mrs. Mao to appalling abuse.

"Mrs. Mao's jailers have a simple goal," Congressman Lantos stated. "They want to force her to end her campaign to expose the evil underbelly of China's one-child policy."

Mr. Lantos says authorities should release Mao Heng Feng, and had this message for Beijing, and another for the jailed dissident: "Stop the torture of Mao Heng Feng and let her return home to her family. My message to her is equally clear. Stay strong," he said. "The world has not forgotten about you or the cause for which you are fighting."

Harry Wu, one of the best known Chinese human rights campaigners, also testified before the special hearing of the House International Relations Committee. He says that despite recent reforms, China's population policies are still in violation of United Nations principles, and constitute the source of most of the major human rights problems in the country:

"The one-child policy is the most pervasive source of human rights violations in China today," said Mr. Wu. "It affects every family, every woman."

Mr. Wu, as well as lawmakers on the House committee, want Congress and the Bush administration to focus more attention on China's family planning policies between now and the 2008 Olympics, to be held in Beijing.

"The Olympics is going to take place in 2008, and we urge Congress as well as the administration [to] set a very clear policy to ensure that human rights in all aspects, including family planning, is upheld before [the] Olympics takes place," said T. Kumar, a Washington representative for Amnesty International.

Michael Kozak of the State Department's Bureau of Human Rights, said the treatment of Mrs. Mao as particularly horrendous, saying it reflects continuing problems in a range of rule of law issues:

"Her case history highlights four particularly serious abuses of the Chinese systems," said Mr. Kozak. "Its coercive family planning policies, the abuse of administrative detention, particularly the continued use of re-education through labor, forced incarceration of citizens in psychiatric hospitals, and the use of torture to force detainees to confess alleged crimes or to recant their beliefs."

Lawmakers want the new 109th Congress that convenes in January to give greater attention to family planning and human rights issues in China.

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