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He Depu Threatened with Deprivation of Family Visits Over Disclosure of Prison Conditions

September 27, 2007

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that prison authorities have threatened to deprive dissident He Depu of family visits after his wife, Jia Jianying, revealed that He had been denied outdoor exercise for nearly half a year.

Sources in China told HRIC that after Jia Jianying visited He Depu on August 23, she told a friend about deteriorating conditions for prisoners at Beijing No. 2 Prison. Jia found that in an effort to improve the appearance of the prison prior to the 2008 Olympics, the roofs of prison buildings were being converted from flat to sloped, and as a result of the construction, prisoners had been deprived of their regular outdoor exercise for at least 10 days. The situation was exacerbated by the hot summer weather, with prisoners being confined to close quarters in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, food costs in Beijing had increased drastically while the expenditure on each inmate's food consumption remained the same, resulting in inmates being deprived of meat and fresh vegetables for an extended period of time. As a result of eating only preserved vegetables and being deprived of regular outdoor exercise, Jia said, inmates' physical health was deteriorating. Subsequently, Jia's description of the conditions at Beijing No. 2 Prison found its way to the Internet and overseas news outlets.

If circulating information about poor prison conditions results in official retaliation and threats, the international community should urge greater transparency in China’s prison system.
— Sharon Hom, executive director of HRIC

HRIC's sources say that when Jia Jianying went to visit He Depu again on September 25, a prison disciplinary team leader surnamed Liu took her aside and scolded her for talking about conditions at the prison. Liu told Jia that He was not allowed to talk to her about his conditions in the prison, and that Jia was likewise not allowed to reveal these conditions to the outside world. Liu reportedly said that after Jia's description of prison conditions had been made public, senior prison officials had made inquiries with the prison. Liu said that if this happened again, Jia would not be allowed to visit He again for up to six months. In addition, He Depu later told Jia that he had likewise repeatedly been warned that if Jia once again talked about prison conditions, he would not be allowed to receive visits from her for up to six months.

Jia Jianying told the prison official that her husband had not told her details, but that she herself had observed that construction made it impossible for the prisoners to go outside. She asked Liu if her husband's letters were also being held by prison officials, since she hadn't received one for nearly three weeks, but Liu did not respond.

Jia Jianying says that regardless of the roof construction, He Depu had been deprived of outdoor exercise for a much longer period because of his refusal to admit guilt. She found him looking pale, thin and sickly, with high blood pressure and shortness of breath. Jia inquired about applying for medical parole for He, but prison officials told her that He's condition would have to deteriorate further before her application would be considered. Jia is concerned that He Depu will not be able to survive the remaining three years of his prison sentence.

He Depu (b. 1956) is a veteran dissident who participated in the Democracy Wall Movement in 1979, the democracy movement in 1989, and the signature campaign for Wang Dan from 1993 to 1995. He also established a magazine, Beijing Youth, and in 1998 helped form the banned China Democracy Party (CDP). He Depu was detained on November 4, 2002, after joining an open letter to the 16th Party Congress signed by 192 dissidents calling for political reform. He was formally arrested on January 31, 2003, on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," and on November 6, 2003, the Beijing Municipal Intermediate People's Court sentenced him to eight years in prison and two years' subsequent deprivation of political rights. At his trial, He Depu complained of abuse in detention, such as being forced to stand continuously upright during the day for 85 days. On January 15, 2004, He was reportedly beaten by prison staff, causing hearing loss that he has never fully regained. He also suffers from liver disease, hepatitis and substantial weight loss.

HRIC condemns the practice of prison authorities threatening to withhold family visitation rights for individuals as retaliation for family members who raise concerns about inmate treatment and prison conditions. The right of prisoners to family visits is provided for in both domestic law and in relevant international standards. HRIC also urges the Chinese government to guarantee that prisoners have suitable daily open air exercise in accordance with UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. "If circulating information about poor prison conditions results in official retaliation and threats, the international community should urge greater transparency in China’s prison system," said Executive Director Sharon Hom. "Raising cases of individuals such as He Depu could help improve health and safety conditions."