Prominent labour activist released after seven years in prison - updated

One of China’s best known workers leaders, Yao Fuxin, was released from prison after serving his full sentence of seven years for “subversion of state power,” his family confirmed on Monday 16 March.

Yao, 58, was one of the leaders of the Liaoyang workers’ movement, who together with fellow activist Xiao Yunliang, led a series of public demonstrations, involving about 17,000 workers, in March 2002 protesting mass layoffs and corruption at the bankrupted state-owned enterprise, Liaoyang Ferroalloy.

Yao Fuxin photographed in 2002

Back at his family home in Liaoyang on Monday afternoon, Yao talked to Radio Free Asia about his ordeal. He said he had absolutely no regrets, vowed to clear his name and continue to expose official corruption.

Yao reiterated that the charge against him of “subversion of state power” was unjust. He stressed that he and his fellow workers were simply protesting at the non-payment of three year’s wages, and the disappearance of over a billion yuan in state assets from Liaoyang Ferroalloy. “They still have not explained how over a billion yuan went missing. I will fight this to the end; I will fight for my rights. This is a miscarriage of justice; they should not only compensate me but give me an explanation as well.”

Yao said his treatment inside Lingyuan No.2 prison, where he was held for the last four years of his sentence, was “quite normal.” His main complaint was that he was not allowed to mix with the general prison population. It was just like being a “counter-revolutionary” during the Cultural Revolution, he said. Moreover, while ordinary criminals were allowed telephone calls to their families, he was not.

Yao explained that because he always maintained his innocence and refused to admit his guilt, he was not eligible for parole, neither was he allowed to work in the prison workshop; he spent his days in his cell, reading, writing and watching television.

Earlier, whilst in the Liaoyang Detention Centre, Yao said he had been forced to wear 18 pound leg irons in a bare cell with just a small plastic basin. During the freezing cold winter of 2002-03, Yao was forced to sleep near an open window and would often wake covered in snow. When he asked for additional clothes and bedding, he was refused. Yao demanded to know why he was being so mistreated but the guards simply said they were following orders.

During his time in prison, Yao suffered two heart attacks and a stroke, and is currently in very poor health.

Although released from prison, Yao will still be deprived of his political rights (freedom of speech and assembly, etc) for another three years. This means Yao and his family will most likely be subject to constant surveillance and routine harassment by the local authorities.

China Labour Bulletin, a consistent supporter and advocate for Yao and his family, calls on the Liaoyang authorities to allow a man who only sought to defend the rights and interests of his fellow workers to return to his family in peace and ensure that he is provided with the medical care and attention he needs.

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