updated 4/12/2006 2:32:36 PM ET 2006-04-12T18:32:36

A Chinese political prisoner who spent nine years in jail for throwing dye at a picture of Mao Zedong during the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests arrived in Canada after being freed from detention in Thailand.

Lu Decheng, who was granted refugee status by Canada last month, had been held on illegal immigration charges after he traveled secretly to Thailand to campaign for the release of one of the other two men jailed with him in 1989.

He arrived in Vancouver on Tuesday and was connecting on to Calgary, Alberta, where he will start his new life.

“I’m very grateful and I’m especially happy that I’ve been able to return to a civil society to once again breathe the air of freedom,” he said through an interpreter at the Vancouver airport.

Lu, a bus driver, and two others were convicted of “counterrevolutionary destruction and counterrevolutionary incitement” for throwing paint on Mao’s portrait as thousands of student-led protesters marched through Tiananmen Square in May 1989.

Long prison sentences
Lu was released after nine years and fled to Thailand in 2004, where he applied for refugee status. A month later, he was arrested by Thai police and detained for illegal entry after meeting with other democracy activists. Slideshow: Modern China in pictures

The Canadian government pressured Thailand for Lu’s release and granted him asylum.

One of the other two political prisoners, Yu Zhijian, was sentenced to life in prison but released in January 2001. He was arrested again in February and charged with subversion for participating in a hunger strike protesting violence against dissidents.

The third prisoner, Yu Dongyue, was released in February after serving a 17-year sentence.

Lu said he intends to keep the promise he made to the other two.

“We knew that one of us had to go out to the world and tell the stories of how the Communist regime is treating us in prison,” he said.

There are at least 70, and possibly as many as 300, prisoners still serving sentences for convictions stemming from the 1989 protests, said John Kamm, director of the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which studies Chinese prisons.

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