Beijing intellectuals Yang Zili (杨子立) and Zhang Honghai (张宏海) were released from prison after completing their eight-year term on March 12, 2009, Yang from the Beijing No. 2 Prison, and Zhang from the Qiaosi Prison in Zhejiang Province. They were imprisoned for activities as members of the New Youth Study Group (新青年学会), which focused on issues of political reform and rural democratization. Both are subjected to two years' deprivation of political rights, which include freedoms of speech, assembly, and association. This means that they may not accept interviews with the foreign press or have any contact with overseas organizations without approval by the authorities.
According to informed sources, Zhang, upon leaving prison, said that now he could breathe the same air that the people of the world breathe, under the same blue sky, but that he has been transformed by the Communist Party from a “new youth” to a middle-aged man.
In March 2001, Yang and Zhang, along with two other members of the New Youth Study Group, Xu Wei (徐伟) and Jin Haike (靳海科) were accused of “intending to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership.” In May 2003, all four were convicted of “subversion of state power.” Xu and Jin were sentenced to 10 years. They were all in their twenties when they were first detained. Yang was a computer engineer, Zhang was a freelance writer, Xu Wei was a reporter and editor at Beijing’s Consumer Daily newspaper, and Jin was a geological engineer. The four have been dubbed the “Four Gentlemen of Beijing” (北京四君子).
As group members, Yang, Zhang, Xu, and Jin met frequently for discussions. They also published articles online concerning domestic affairs, including, “Be a New Citizen, Reform China,” and “What’s to be Done.”
They were tried twice, first in September 2001, and then in April 2003, two years into their detention. In court, Yang and others protested that they had suffered severe abuse in detention, including beatings, electric shocks to the genitals, and being forced to sit upright in a fixed position for more than ten hours at a time. No investigation was ever conducted.
The three witnesses against them were members of the study group. One of them was an informant for the Ministry of Public Security. After the conviction, all three witnesses said that their testimony was given under coercion. The informant later fled to Thailand and said in interviews with the press that he felt that the group’s activities did not violate the law. During the appeal hearing, the Beijing Higher People’s Court refused to allow the witnesses to withdraw their testimony, or admit exculpatory material provided by them.
Sources close to Zhang gave HRIC the following description of his imprisonment:
Zhang was initially detained for two and a half years at the Public Security Bureau (PSB) detention center at No. 47 Dahongmen Road in Beijing. Conditions were harshest there, where he was locked up with criminals in cramped conditions. He shared a small cell measuring seven to eight feet across with another inmate, at times someone on death row.
He was then held in Tianhe Prison, also in Beijing, for nine months. He was transferred to Qiaosi Prison in Zhejiang Province, where he would spend the following four years doing constant physical labor.
According to Yang’s family, Yang, as a political prisoner who did not admit guilt, was treated harshly and was not allowed to have monthly phone calls to family – he could only have calls on important holidays. In the eight years he was imprisoned, Yang saw his father only five times, each time only for half an hour. Yang’s mother has been suffering mental illness.
Jin is still in Beijing’s No. 2 Prison. Jin has been suffering from intestinal diseases since 2007 that have gradually worsened, and the prison authorities denied his family’s request for medical parole and would not allow his lawyer to see him. Xu is reported to have developed mental illness in prison, and was transferred to Yanqing Prison in Beijing, a facility especially for sick inmates.
For more information on Jin Haike, Xu Wei, Yang Zili, and Zhang Honghai, see::