Freed dissident calls for ‘taxpayers revolution’ in China

By P. Parameswaran, WASHINGTON, AFP

A high-profile Chinese dissident freed from prison called on Tuesday for a “taxpayers revolution” in China to bring about greater openness and accountability in the world’s most populous nation.

Yang Jianli, a veteran of the bloody Tiananmen Square student uprising in Beijing in 1989, urged Chinese communist leaders to give in to “mounting pressures from bottom to top for democracy in China” so that they could minimize the “social cost” for such change.

A permanent U.S. resident, Yang returned to his Boston home from Beijing at the weekend after serving a five-year prison sentence for spying and illegally entering China.

Holder of doctorates from both Harvard and Berkeley, Yang was detained for illegal entry and alleged espionage for Taiwan in April 2002 when entering China with a friend’s passport to observe labor unrest.

Beijing had refused to renew his own passport due to his involvement in the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement that ended in bloodshed when tanks crushed the demonstrations, killing hundreds or even thousands of protesters.

“People in China are more and more aware of their rights as taxpayers and I have been advocating a taxpayers’ revolution from prison,” Yang told AFP in a telephone interview from Boston.

Yang, who is to give a news conference at Capitol Hill with U.S. legislators on Tuesday, said he wrote a number of chapters for a book on the topic while in prison.

“Everybody in China is a taxpayer and are entitled to certain rights as masters of the country, masters of the government,” he said.

“They are entitled, for example, to ask the government to make public their budget so that they can choose the most efficient, cost effective public services people,” he said.

The dissident believed “the days are not too far away” for democracy to take root in China and transform from a “100 percent police state now.”

He said that President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders were already “feeling the urgency for freedom but are worried that if they open up, they will lose their power and everything.

“The reality is nobody can stop democratization in China now. The value of human rights has become universal.”

Yang, a father of two, was released from prison on April 27 but his status has been in limbo as Beijing had refused to give him an identity card to stay in the country or an exit visa or passport to leave the country.

Yang’s case was brought up with the Chinese leaders several times by U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate had unanimously passed several resolutions calling for his unconditional release.

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also found that Yang had been held in violation of international law.

Barney Frank, the Democratic lawmaker from Massachusetts, whose constituents include Yang and his family, said U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s “intervention” with Chinese leaders in July helped prod Beijing to issue a passport for Yang and paved the way for his return.

“I also very much appreciate that the Chinese government acceded to Secretary Paulson’s request and allowed Jianli to come home,” Frank said.

Yang said that the Chinese authorities had taken him to Beijing airport in September 2006 to send him to the United States but he refused because they could not give him a verbal or written assurance that he could return to China or allow him to visit the grave of his father, who died during his imprisonment.

“So they put me back in prison and I fully served my term,” he said. “I paid a high price but I accomplished my goals — including getting a passport, which theoretically allows me to go back to China even tomorrow.”

Yang said he would “spend meaningful time with his family” over the next few months to decide on what specific projects he would undertake to push for democratization in China.