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World - Asia/Pacific

China warns against international 'interference'


Nearly 200 dissidents demand release of activists

December 2, 1998
Web posted at: 9:59 a.m. EST (1459 GMT)

BEIJING (CNN) -- China released two dissidents on Wednesday, but the Foreign Ministry reaffirmed its tough stance on the issue and warned the international community not to interfere in China's domestic affairs.

Police freed pro-democracy party supporters Chen Zhonghe and Xiao Shichang after they had spent a second night in detention. But police kept three of the most prominent dissidents -- Xu Wenli, Qin Yongmin and Wang Youcai -- who are all outspoken organizers of the would-be opposition China Democracy Party.

Nearly 200 dissidents issued a letter Wednesday appealing for the immediate release of the three key party members. Two leaders of the ill-fated 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests also began a 48-hour hunger strike to demand the release of Xu, Qin and Wang, according to a Hong Kong-based human rights group.

Reaction from Beijing


But the Beijing authorities took a harsh line Wednesday.

"Xu Wenli is suspected of activities which have harmed national security and his acts have violated relevant criminal codes of the People's Republic of China," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"This is an internal matter and other nations should not interfere," the statement said in an obvious swipe at the United States, which had sharply criticized the detentions on Tuesday.

"We conveyed our strong views to officials in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs today in Beijing and urged the authorities to release Xu immediately," U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said.

"We view his detention for peacefully exercising fundamental freedoms guaranteed by international human rights instruments as a serious step in the wrong direction," Rubin added.

China unveils sweeping legal reforms

Xu, 55, chairman of the party's cells in Beijing and the northern port city of Tianjin, spent more than a decade in prison for his role in the 1978-79 Democracy Wall movement.

The Hong Kong human rights group quoted a letter by 191 pro-democracy campaigners from around the country as saying the detentions of the dissidents illustrated Beijing's "hypocrisy."

China in October signed the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which among other things guarantees freedom of assembly and speech.

But the letter said that rights in China, far from improving, had actually become worse.

Authorities have not allowed the Chinese Democratic Party to register. Last week, the chairman of the National People's Congress, Li Peng, ruled out Western-style democracy.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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