Appeal for release of jailed HK democrat

HONG KONG, Agencies

Relatives and colleagues of a Hong Kong democracy activist jailed in China for soliciting a prostitute Wednesday urged Chinese authorities to release him on medical grounds, a colleague said.

The petition urges that Alex Ho, a candidate for the Democratic Party in upcoming key legislative elections, be freed to obtain treatment for a liver complaint they say could worsen without medical attention.

“We have filed a petition to the authorities through Hong Kong’s immigration department, in line with procedure,” party official and fellow candidate Fred Li told AFP.

“The petition states that he should be released on medical… grounds.”

Ho, a 46-year-old rag-trade salesman, was jailed for six months Friday after being arrested during a business trip in southern China’s Dongguan city.

He was allegedly forced to sign a confession that he had slept with a prostitute.

Li said the petition would have to “go through the legal channels” but added that the Hong Kong government had told him it would help where it could.

“The government has promised it is working on the issue and that it was very sympathetic towards Mr Ho’s illness,” Li said.

Ho’s incarceration sparked accusations that Chinese authorities had fabricated evidence in order to disgrace democrats, with whom Beijing has long squabbled over rights to full elections in the former British colony.

But by Wednesday, Li had toned down the party rhetoric.

“We do not want to drag on about whether or not this was entrapment,” he said. “Mrs Ho just wants her husband to come back home.”

Media reports claimed Ho’s wife Carol had retracted earlier claims that her husband had been badly beaten while in detention.

However, Li said she was convinced of her husband’s innocence.

“Mrs Ho still emphasizes that she still believes her husband does not patronize prostitutes — and that’s the party’s position too.”

She has also stuck to her claim that Ho was forced to sign a confession.

“He was threatened that he’d be charged with rape if he didn’t,” said Li.

Justice secretary Elsie Leung earlier said her department would let election chiefs decide whether Ho would be disqualified from running in the September poll.

The election law says any candidate in prison on polling day would not be eligible to stand.

However, there is some doubt over Ho’s legal status as some media reported that his sentence — a summary six-months of reform through hard labor — is not technically deemed imprisonment.

Amnesty International issued a statement Wednesday expressing its concern over Ho’s detention without trial.

“Amnesty International is concerned that ‘Re-education Through Labor’ contravenes various international human rights standards,” it said. “Amnesty International urges the Chinese authorities to abolish this abuse system of detention.”