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Freed China scholar believes Stanford's jailed scholar both ill and innocent
The health of Stanford researcher Hua Di, who is being held in a Chinese jail, is very poor, according to a scholar arrested on a trip to China in August who says he was held in a cell next to Hua.
Dickinson College librarian and historian Song Yongyi, who was released in January, made the comments about Hua during a campus seminar Monday. He also said he believes Hua Di is innocent of the charges the Chinese security police have brought against him.
Hua, 64, a researcher at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation, was arrested in China in January 1998 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in early December, according to the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights in China. The Chinese government "only acknowledges that he was arrested for suspicion of deliberately seeking state secrets," the State Department's Feb. 25 report says.
Song, 50, began his talk by thanking five unnamed Stanford China scholars for being among 150 who signed a petition urging his own release. He told his audience of about 60 people that he was housed in a cell next door to Hua Di at the Beijing Bureau of State Security and that several of his roommates had previously shared Hua's cell.
While Song said he never met Hua, he believes he could hear Hua's voice through the walls. Song said his cellmates told him that Hua believed his breast cancer treated at Stanford before he was arrested in January 1998 had spread. They also said he had fallen unconscious twice and had been taken away by an ambulance each time. Chinese prisoners are denied medical checkups, Song added.
Song also said he believed Hua, who had been a high-ranking official in China's missile program before he came to Stanford in 1989, was innocent of the charges brought against him. Hua has appealed his case and the authorities have until the end of March to decide the appeal under Chinese law, he said. Hua's Stanford colleagues are preparing to file a medical parole request on his behalf, but it cannot formally be filed until after his other appeal period ends, Song and Stanford Professor John Lewis said.
"We hope that a group of doctors concerned with human rights will help us," Lewis said following Song's talk, which was hosted by the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Center for East Asian Studies.
"The research topic and the situation for me and Hua Di is different but the strategy [Chinese authorities] used is the same," Song said. "They sentenced Hua Di based upon his academic papers. He was not sentenced on secretive things." Hua published several academic papers at Stanford on Chinese international relations including one with Lewis on the history of China's missile program.
"Through my painful experience, I firmly believe that China's KGB absolutely doesn't have any credibility," Song said. Most of the officers involved in his case were young and had a high school education or less, he said, and did not understand how to determine what was a legitimate state secret and what was not. "They also don't care about innocent people. They just want to get their promotion and save face," he said.
"Maybe I don't know very much about his case. But based on my ridiculous experience, I believe Hua Di, because Hua Di still insists he is innocent. "
Several Stanford graduate students who are doing research on Chinese topics asked Song for practical advice on how they might avoid the same fate if they conduct research in China. Song said the police told him that if he had been an American citizen, they would have only held him 12 hours before releasing him. (Since returning to the United States, Song has become an American citizen.)
But he also urged all researchers who travel to China to read China's two books on national criminal law, even if they are somewhat ambiguous and contradictory. While in prison, he said, he became somewhat of a "jailhouse lawyer" and could argue with his interrogators based on what was in their law. Nevertheless, he said, the state police believe they are above the law and say they follow only "internal regulations."
The state security police were still using tactics familiar to him from his first imprisonment from 1971 to 1976, Song said, but he added that "the legal system is a little bit improved." The police who arrested him were not able to write a very clear case against him, he said, and the first charges they filed were rejected by the Beijing prosecutor as a result.
Song was on his third trip to China collecting documents on the Cultural Revolution when he and his wife were arrested in the early morning hours of Aug. 7. The documents he obtained had all been widely distributed public documents in the Cultural Revolution and were available in Chinese bookstores, he said. With others, he was attempting to put together a CD collection of documents from the Cultural Revolution, he said, in order to make it easier for the next generation of scholars to research the period from 1966 to 1976, when an estimated 200 million Chinese lost their lives.
Song said he did not really know why he was singled out from dozens of other researchers who present academic papers on China's recent history. China's current leaders distance themselves from the Cultural Revolution, but he said his paper was critical of revered figure Zhou Enlai. The fact that he had been imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution couldn't have been a factor, he said, because the 10 agents who arrested him did not know he had been jailed in China before.
While in prison, Song said he wrote a 6,000-word essay to his guards explaining why he studied the Cultural Revolution. "I only educated them to never forget that a disaster happened in China's modern history."
When he was released, he said, Chinese officials gave him a send-off banquet, even inviting his relatives in China. They also tried to retrieve papers he had in his briefcase, but he told them he would refuse to get on the airplane without them.
Harry Wu, a Hoover Institution fellow who was once jailed in China, asked Song if he planned to sue the Chinese government. Song said his lawyer has advised him that under Chinese law he could collect about 25 cents for each day he was detained. While it would be technically difficult to pursue such a lawsuit without returning to China, Song said he is still considering the idea.
By Kathleen O'Toole