China Dissident Refuses to Recant

Pro-democracy activist holds to ideals despite stiff jail sentence after Tiananmen crackdown

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

CHINA's beleaguered democracy activists have found a new symbol of defiance in a jailed dissident who has refused to buckle under police repression, the activists say. Ren Wanding, a veteran dissident sentenced to prison Saturday, has held fast to the ideals that inspired the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, according to official reports.

Mr. Ren, an accountant who was jailed from 1979 to 1983 for liberal activism, ``was found guilty of grave crimes and showed no repentance'' for his part in the 1989 protests, the New China News Agency reported. He received a seven-year jail term.

Ren was sentenced along with student Wang Dan and three other leaders of the massive rallies for fundamental liberties that swept Beijing and much of China in the spring of 1989.

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Mr. Wang, a former history student at Beijing University, was No. 1 on a ``most wanted'' list of 21 student activists circulated by police after the Army violently suppressed the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

Wang ``committed serious crimes but has shown such repentance as confessing his own crimes and exposing others,'' the news agency said.

It is unclear whether Wang actually betrayed his colleagues or if the official allegation was an attempt to discredit him. He was sentenced to four years in jail.

Also sentenced was Bao Zunxin, a former researcher at the History Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Mr. Bao will be jailed for five years. Liu Xiaobo, a former lecturer at Beijing Normal University, was exempted from punishment.

Both activists, central figures in the ``Beijing Spring,'' apparently showed contrition. Mr. Liu, who led a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square just before the massacre of June 3-4, 1989, ``performed some major meritorious services,'' the news agency said without elaboration.

Of more than 60 dissidents who have faced trial this month, Ren is the only one who failed to confess wrongdoing, the official press said.

``Many protesters have fled abroad or given in to police while in jail, but Ren has stayed to keep on fighting - he is a strong rallying figure,'' said a dissident jailed for many months following the 1989 protests.

A stern and unsmiling man, Ren voiced his intense liberal convictions in speeches at Tiananmen Square in May 1989 but did not play a leadership role.

Ren had been one of the leaders of the Democracy Wall movement of 1978 and 1979, a period when a low brick barrier in central Beijing was the forum for one of most brightest flowerings of liberal dissent under communist rule. He was arrested in April 1979 and sentenced to four years in jail.

FIVE years after his release, Ren circulated a 22-page essay in November 1988 that denounced the government for denying Chinese freedom of speech and other rights. The paper warned of future unrest and voiced many of the grievances that within six months compelled hundreds of thousands of Beijing residents to take to the streets.

``In 1949, the Communist Party came to power through force,'' Ren wrote. ``Now it should let the people decide their future through the ballot box.''

Like other jailed dissidents, Ren is barred from virtually all contacts with people outside prison walls. Nevertheless, his 1988 essay plainly states his views, just as it clearly foreshadowed the events and rallying cries that were to come.

Like recent human rights activists, Ren called on foreign governments to withhold aid to China until it introduces democratic reform and frees political prisoners.

``Progress on these fronts should be a condition for investment,'' Ren wrote.

``Enhancing the power of an unreformed state suggests greater suppression of the people, who will sooner or later react.''

As if addressing his jailers today, Ren said, ``the Communist Party cannot succeed in bending the minds of those it imprisons.''

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