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US Congress Members Criticize China's Handling of Dissidents - 2003-06-05

Members of Congress have sharply criticized China over the continued detention of Yang Jianli, a noted dissident and scholar, arrested by Chinese authorities more than a year ago. A United Nations working group has said Dr. Yang's detention is a violation of human rights principles.

In a decision this week, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, part of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, ruled that Yang Jianli is being held in violation of international law.

The group's five independent representatives (from Iran, France, Hungary, Algeria, and Paraguay) ruled that the Chinese government failed to provide Mr. Yang or his family with a formal detention notice and access to a lawyer. They also found that Beijing authorities have held Mr. Yang beyond the maximum time limit for detention without a warrant.

The working group decision was issued in New York Tuesday, but formally announced Wednesday at a Capitol Hill news conference. Mr. Yang's wife, Christina Fu, was among the participants. "The most difficult time for me is when my son, seven years old, asks me where is daddy, when is he coming home. I find it very difficult to tell this happy and young American...I couldn't tell him the truth," she says. "But one thing I am happy I have been doing is to bring him to Capitol Hill once a month, and all his students at his school know that our country's top leaders are helping Aaron's Dad."

A participant in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests, Yang Jianli was arrested in April of last year while boarding a plane in China with false papers. Since brief phone contact with his wife, he has not been able to communicate with his family, nor has he been allowed a lawyer.

"This enormously courageous man, dedicated to human rights, is not a threat to a great nation," says Congressman Barney Frank, who represents the district in Massachusetts where Mr. Yang and his family live. "And it is unbecoming of the People's Republic of China to be terrified of one honest man."

Jerome Cohen, Professor of Law at New York University, is a noted expert on China's criminal law. He says the U.N. working group's ruling should cast more light on the key issue which he says is China's violation of its own laws. "If the Chinese authorities had only, in good faith, followed their own procedural law, we wouldn't be here today," he says. "They have allowed the police, and now the secret police, China's version of the KGB, to distort China's own criminal procedural law, in order to deny him any opportunity to get any assistance."

China attempted, but failed, to win a legal challenge to the case in the U.N. working group saying Mr. Yang was being treated with due legal process. The U.N. group's decision is not enforceable through existing U.N. mechanisms.

More than 40 members of the House of Representatives are backing a resolution urging the Bush administration to continue pressing for Mr. Yang's release. In a letter sent before the G-8 summit, lawmakers urged President Bush to raise the case in talks with China's president Hu Jintao prior to their meeting in France.

Mr. Yang's lawyer, Jared Gesner, who also heads a human rights group campaigning for his release, is disappointed but says the Bush administration has generally been very supportive. "We have been very gratified for the strong support we have gotten from the State Department, National Security Council. Are we disappointed? Absolutely," says Mr. Gesner. "But we feel we do have the strong support of the administration with respect to this case, and of course we will continue to push it."

That support included a letter from U.S. National Security Advisor, Condolleeza Rice, recently sent to Mr. Yang's wife.