Thursday, May 15, 2008

Former Chinese prisoner stops at City Hall

Yang Jianlee is walking from Boston to Washington D.C. to draw attention to China's policies

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
— Standing on the steps of City Hall Wednesday morning, Yang Jianlee called on Americans to push for human rights in China, the country that jailed and tortured him for five years.
His crime: demanding democracy in a nation controlled by the Communist Party.
Yang, a member of the underground Christian church in China, said constant prayer kept his hope alive while in prison.
Only international pressure spared him from the regime’s brutal treatment endured by his fellow prisoners.
Now, Yang, shown at right, on right, greeting Dr. Jianchao Xu, an associate professor at the Yale Medical School, is walking from Boston to Washington, D.C., to draw attention to the issue.
Yang expressed sadness Thursday over the recent earthquake that ripped through China, but continued to criticize the ruling regime.
He also called on the Chinese government to mobilize resources to aid earthquake victims, instead of for the Olympics. He urged President Bush to boycott opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.
After his release in April 2007, Yang stayed in China for four months before the Communist Party sent four cars to take him to the airport.
“They wanted me to leave,” he chuckled.
Once in the United States, he embarked on a mission to shine a spotlight on China’s suppression of free press and speech, and political dissidents.
He talked openly of brutal torture methods.
“The whole autocracy is a killing machine, a torture machine,” Yang said, sharing how he heard shouts and cries from prisoners in other cells.
Some were political dissidents, other criminals. The spokesman of the embassy of the People’s Republic of China did not respond to calls Wednesday.
An embassy worker said the embassy’s full attention is focused on the killer earthquake that killed thousands and injured many more.
Yang, who holds doctorates in mathematics and political economics, said as economic ties between the United States and China bind the countries more tightly, the U.S. government would have more clout over a party concerned about its public image abroad and growing restlessness at home and can therefore make an effective push for democracy.
While American business may fear China closing its markets to them, the Chinese government has a far greater fear Americans may start closing its markets, he said. That gives corporate America significant clout.
Yang called on the government here to work with Chinese officials to lift restrictions on free press and speech and tear down the firewall designed to shut off citizens. Yang said only democracy can stop human rights abuses and widespread corruption in China.
Jianchao, a Falun Gong practitioner, warmly shook Yang’s hand.
“You are the true champion of human rights,” Jianchao said. “In China being a citizen means nothing. In this country, everybody counts.”
Yang walks to tell his story and ask Americans to elect representatives who demand human rights in China.
His journey to date has covered 140 miles. He will continue his walk to Bridgeport, then New York City, and finally to a rally in Washington, D.C.
The trip covers 500 miles and more than one million steps. Yang considers each step a step forward for democracy.
His trip has been endorsed by Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. In New Haven, nearly a dozen Falun Gong surrounded Yang.
Maria Garriga can be reached at or 789-5726.

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