Image: Wang Youcai
AP file
Wang Youcai, a longtime Chinese activist who helped lead the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests, is shown in this 1995 file photo.
updated 3/4/2004 2:52:30 PM ET 2004-03-04T19:52:30

A democracy activist who helped organize the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests was released by China and arrived in the United States on Thursday.

It was the third time in a week Beijing has acted on similar cases after lobbying from Washington.

Wang Youcai, 37, was given medical parole and left the Zhejiang No. 1 prison in southern China early in the day, said John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation, a rights group. He boarded a plane for the United States after bidding his family farewell.

Kamm said Wang arrived in San Francisco at mid-morning en route to his final destination, Providence, R.I. He was expected to arrive there Thursday night.

Wang was sentenced in 1998 to 11 years for activities related to his founding of the China Democracy Party.

He was also one of more than a dozen student leaders of the 1989 demonstrations that led to the Tiananmen Square military crackdown in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, died. He served a year in prison in 1990 on charges related to those activities.

Wang’s release was the latest among cases the U.S. government has identified as priorities and was seen as a sign that the Chinese government was responding directly to Washington’s human rights concerns.

“Clearly, I think, they have been releasing and giving sentence reductions to people who are considered priority cases by the United States,” Kamm told The Associated Press. “It’s part of an overall effort to get the human rights dialogue back on track.”

In its annual human rights report last month, the U.S. State Department said China was “backsliding on key human rights issues,” citing arrests of democracy activists and individuals who discussed subjects on the Internet deemed sensitive by the government.

On Wednesday, Beijing cut one year from the eight-year prison term of Rebiya Kadeer, a Muslim businesswoman convicted of violating national security after she sent Chinese newspapers to her husband.

Last week, China released Phuntsog Nyidron, a Tibetan nun who was arrested in 1989 on charges of “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement” and sentenced to eight years in prison.

She was the last of the 14 Tibetan “singing nuns” who used a tape recorder smuggled into the prison to record songs about their love for their families and their homeland in 1993. Their sentences were extended after the tape was smuggled out of the prison.

The release of Wang, a physicist, had been pushed by U.S. Ambassador Clark T. Randt. It came one day after the U.S. House urged the Bush administration to move more forcefully on China’s human rights record.

Two Republican lawmakers — Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska — had also pushed for his release.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

Wang was paroled in advance of the March 15 session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, where U.S. officials say they might sponsor a resolution criticizing China.

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