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Campaign to free jailed dissident gains momentum

By JAMES MILES

HONG KONG -- On Christmas Day 1981, a young Hong Kong man crossed the border into China to visit the families of jailed dissident friends in the southern city of Canton.

More than three years later, Liu Shanqing is still there, serving a 10-year sentence for 'counter-revolutionary crimes.'

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Liu's friends in Hong Kong are stepping up their campaign for his release, claiming China has violated its constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and association by jailing him.

And support for Liu is mounting as more Hong Kong people worry about the fate of human rights guarantees in the British colony after China takes over in 1997.

'He has become a scapegoat for the present political situation in China,' a friend said. 'They want to stop Hong Kong people from criticizing the Chinese government.'

According to Amnesty International's representative in Hong Kong, Father Benjamin Uribe, Hong Kong people are showing increasing interest in the human rights issue, particularly since the September initialling of the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong's future.

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'The imminence of change in Hong Kong's political future makes them more conscious of this problem,' he said.

China pledged in the declaration to preserve the present social and economic system for at least 50 years after 1997.

Before leaving Hong Kong, Liu told his girlfriend he would be back in three days. When the now 33-year-old engineer failed to return, his family began asking Chinese authorities for information.

Not until March 1983, after several trips to Canton, did Liu's father receive unofficial confirmation that his son had been imprisoned.

Finally, in August 1983, the Intermediate Court of Canton responded to a query from a Hong Kong student organization and said Liu had been convicted of unspecified 'counter-revolutionary crimes' after a 'public trial' and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Peking, however, has refused to disclose the exact charges, despite repeated requests from Liu's friends and the Hong Kong government.

Amnesty International has joined the campaign for Liu's release and has adopted him as one of 30 Chinese 'prisoners of conscience' who supported the 'Democracy Movement.'

The movement, made famous by Peking's 'Democracy Wall' where 'big character posters' calling for democratic freedoms were plastered, reached its peak between 1979 and 1981.

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The Chinese government crushed the movement in 1981 with the arrest of its main leaders.

Francis Lau, a schoolteacher who heads the Rescue Liu Shanqing Committee, said Liu was one of many young people in Hong Kong who went to China to meet Democracy Movement activists and bring back publications.

The Rescue Committee, set up shortly after Liu disappeared, recently renewed its campaign for Liu's release, putting up posters and trying to recruit the help of Hong Kong officials.

'If they don't release him then protest will grow,' said another friend.

Lau described Liu as a left-wing social activist who often took part in protests about the treatment of 'boat people' refugees and squatters.

'Liu did not advocate violence,' Lau said.

Lau said another Hong Kong activist, Wu Zhongxian, was arrested in China shortly before Liu. Police showed Wu a list of about 50 Hong Kong supporters of the Democracy Movement -- with Liu at the top.

When Wu was released and returned to Hong Kong, he warned Liu and others not to make any more trips to China.

'Liu was stupid not to tell us he was going,' Lau said. 'It was still very dangerous at that time.'

One of Liu's friends, whose name also allegedly appeared on the list, said he would leave Hong Kong before the Chinese take over in 1997 because he feared reprisals.

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Liu's father is allowed to visit Liu at the prison near Canton once every three months and write every month. He refused to talk to reporters but told friends that Liu is in good health and has a job in the prison factory.

The Hong Kong government says it is powerless to intervene even though Liu was born in the British colony.

The young dissident is not entitled to British consular protection in China, a Hong Kong government spokesman said, because he was traveling on a 'Hong Kong and Macao compatriots' re-entry visa.' Persons traveling under the document, issued by the Chinese government to residents of the two territories, are considered Chinese nationals and subject to Chinese law.

Liu's friends are bitter about the Hong Kong government's lack of enthusiasm for the case.

The Rescue Committee includes several members of the Trotskyist Party, which actively supported the Democracy Movement, and Liu's friends believe the Hong Kong government is afraid to back Liu's case because it does not want to appear to be supporting an anti-Peking group.

But, Liu's friends say, there are signs China is softening its stance.

'Some people in the Canton government have said indirectly that he may be released,' said one. 'Maybe in three or four months.'

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