BEIJING–A Chinese activist who has spent nearly half his life in detention has been freed from prison, reports said Wednesday, in a rare move amid clampdowns on other dissidents. Xu Wanping was released this week from the Yuzhou jail in the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing, according to the New York-based campaign group Human Rights in China and U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA). Xu, a former factory worker and member of the outlawed Chinese Democracy Party, which advocates for an end to one-party rule, was sentenced in 2005 to 12 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.”
He was freed this week after authorities in Chongqing granted him a three-year reduction, he told RFA Wednesday, without specifying a reason. Despite his release, Xu will be deprived of his political rights for four years — essentially a ban on speaking to media as well as restrictions on his movements and contacts — and his wife told RFA she remains concerned about his physical condition after so many years in jail. Xu has served a total of 20 years in various forms of detention. He was first jailed for eight years in 1989 for taking part in pro-democracy protests in Chongqing, and after his release was sentenced to three years in a labor camp in 1998 for inciting laid-off workers to protest. In 2005, he was jailed again when Chinese authorities swept up several long-time democracy activists shortly after anti-Japanese protests in major cities. The detentions apparently reflected China’s fear that dissidents could take advantage of the anti-Japan demonstrations to influence ordinary people to protest over other issues including corruption and lack of freedoms.