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Founder of Independent Trade Union Released from Prison
Hu Shigen (胡石根), one of China’s foremost labour rights and pro-democracy activists, has finally been freed from prison after serving 16 years of a 20-year sentence for attempting to form an independent trade union and political party in the early 1990s. He was released from Beijing No. 2 Prison on 26 August 2008.
China Labour Bulletin (CLB) strongly welcomes the news of Hu Shigen’s release, but stresses that he should never have been jailed in the first place merely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association. Even today in China, after a quarter-century of economic reform, attempts to form independent trade unions remain strictly criminalized.
Hu Shigen’s case has been the focus of international advocacy efforts by trade unions, human rights groups and others for many years. In June, for example, the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy presented him in absentia with its 2008 Democracy Award, in honour of his steadfast commitment to the cause of worker’s rights.
Hu, now 53 and formerly an academic at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute, was a principal founder in 1991 and 1992 of two dissident groups: the Free Labour Union of China (FLUC) and the China Liberal Democratic Party (CLDP). Both groups were swiftly banned by the authorities, and Hu was arrested in May 1992 along with 15 other unofficial trade union and party activists involved in their formation. In 1994, after two years of detention, the detainees – known as the "Beijing Sixteen" – were brought to trial.
All were convicted of the crimes of “carrying out counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement” and “organizing a counterrevolutionary group.” Hu Shigen received the heaviest sentence: 20 years’ imprisonment, with a suspension of political rights for five years after his release.
Although both these crimes were removed from the Chinese Criminal Law in 1997, none of the Beijing Sixteen whose sentences were still in force at that time were freed from prison. Similarly, after the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined, in 2005, that Hu’s detention was “arbitrary” and hence unlawful by international standards, the Chinese authorities continued to incarcerate him. The rest of the Beijing Sixteen had by then been released.
Hu received a seven-month sentence reduction in December 2005, an additional 17-month sentence reduction in 2007 and a final 21-month reduction in April 2008. His “deprivation of political rights” for five years, following his recent release, means that he is currently barred from exercising his rights to free speech, association and assembly, along with other sanctions and restrictions.