Last Tiananmen prisoner set to taste freedom

A man looks at the exhibits in the June 4th Museum in Hong Kong. It is the world's only museum about the Chinese Government's brutal 1989 crackdown on student protesters in Beijing. Photo / AP
A man looks at the exhibits in the June 4th Museum in Hong Kong. It is the world's only museum about the Chinese Government's brutal 1989 crackdown on student protesters in Beijing. Photo / AP

China is set to release a man who is believed to be the last person imprisoned for participating in the Tiananmen protests, a human rights group has said.

Miao Deshun was convicted of arson after he was said to have thrown a basket onto a burning tank with four work colleagues, and was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in August 1989.

His sentence was later commuted to life and he was given an 11-month reduction this year, meaning he should be released in October, according to the US-based Dui Hua Foundation.

"We welcome this news, and express the hope that he will receive the care he needs to resume a normal life after spending more than half of it behind bars," John Kamm, executive director of the organisation, said.

The Tiananmen protest in central Beijing was suppressed by a brutal crackdown which left hundreds dead.

Similar protests broke out across China and some were also put down with violence by the Chinese Government. The demonstrators were largely students and workers.

Miao, 51, was a worker from Hebei province, which neighbours the Chinese capital. Workers involved in the protests usually received longer sentences than students.

Miao has reportedly become extremely thin during his long years in prison. Dong Shengkun, a fellow Tiananmen convict who once shared a prison cell with Miao Deshun told the BBC: "I was chained but he wasn't. He said the guards probably thought he was too thin to be able to wear foot chains. He wouldn't be able to walk under the weight of the chains."

Another former Tiananmen protester, Zhang Yansheng, who was released on parole in 2003, said that Miao had serious mental health problems.

"He has some severe mental health issues, and I think it could take him a long time to get accustomed to life on the outside," Zhang told Radio Free Asia.

"I have a pretty hard time myself right now, but it'll be even worse for him."

The Dua Hua Foundation said Miao has had "no contact with the outside world for many years" and had hepatitis B and schizophrenia.

They said he had refused to admit wrongdoing or to participate in prison labour. He is said to have spent time in solitary confinement during his long prison term.

The brutal crushing of demonstrations remains a highly-sensitive subject among China's stability-obsessed Communist leaders.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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