PEN International welcomes the release of veteran dissident writer and activist He Depu, who was freed on January 23, 2011, after serving eight years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” for his dissident writings and activism. He Depu is an honorary member of Swiss Romande PEN and the Independent Chinese PEN Center.

Thank you to all who have campaigned on behalf of He Depu during his imprisonment.

Background Information

The following is a press release from Human Rights in China (HRiC):

‘Shortly after He Depu (何德普), a veteran dissident and activist, walked out of a Beijing prison today after completing his eight-year term, he was beaten by four police officers when he resisted being shoved into a police vehicle. He was injured in the neck and hands, according to an eyewitness.

The eyewitness said that He Depu was then taken to Zhanlan Road Public Security substation in Beijing’s Xicheng District, where he was read the provisions of his two years of post-release deprivation of political rights, which include a prohibition on criticizing the government. According to an informed source, He Depu said that he was not afraid, and would speak out.

In November 2002, He Depu was detained after joining 191 other dissents in an open letter to the 16th Party Congress that called for political reforms, including reassessing the 1989 Democracy Movement, releasing all prisoners of conscience, ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and expanding democratic elections first to the county level and eventually to the national level. He was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” on November 6, 2003, and served his sentence at the Beijing No. 2 Prison.

According to the informed source, He Depu said that during his imprisonment, his wife and mother endured great humiliation and pain, and that he deeply regrets not having been able to fulfill his duties as a husband, son, and father. The source reports that He Depu also stressed the importance of ending the one-party dictatorship and building a free China, and that death is preferable to the loss of freedom. The source also said that He Depu recounted episodes of torture during his detention and after his trial. He said that when he was first detained, he was made to lie on a wooden bed for 85 days, with his wrists and thighs chained to the bed such that his body formed the shape of the character da (大, or “big”). And in the Beijing holding center (遣送处) where He Depu was held before being sent to prison, a police officer named Liu told He Depu to say that he was guilty; when He Depu refused, the police officer ordered four prisoners to beat him. The prisoners kicked He Depu in the back and legs and all five of them pinned him to the ground, face down, for 20 minutes.

He Depu suffered poor health in prison, including high blood pressure and ear problems. In 2007, He Depu’s wife, Jia Jianying (贾建英), revealed the poor treatment of prisoners in the Beijing No. 2 Prison resulting from construction in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, including depriving prisoners of their regular outdoor exercise for ten days and confining them to close quarters in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In February 2008, the prison authorities turned down an application by Jia on behalf of He Depu for medical parole.

While in prison, He Depu continued to speak out. In 2008, he issued an open letter to the International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. The letter said that preparation for the Olympics had not improved, but actually worsened, prison conditions, in contrast to the promises made by the Chinese authorities to improve Chinese society. He pointed out that food and medical treatment provided in prison were extremely poor, and political prisoners suffered the worst. He wrote: “Each time you come to Beijing and see the joyous spectacles here, do you know that just ten or so kilometers away, Beijing’s political prisoners are suffering immensely for the progress of society and the elevation of human civilization? Tens of thousands of prisoners in Beijing, each holding a bowl half full of boiled vegetables, are training their eyes upon you.”

The full text of the letter

He Depu is one of China’s most prominent political prisoners. He participated in the Democracy Wall Movement of 1979, the Democracy Movement of 1989, and signature campaigns for Tiananmen activist Wang Dan (王丹) in 1993 and 1995. He also formed the magazine Beijing Youth (北京青年) and in 1998 helped form the now-banned "China Democracy Party."

Send Your Letter To

PEN members are encouraged to send messages of support to He Depu as follows:

He Depu
No 9-1-5,Chaoyanan,
Xicheng District,