Featured Cause: Prisoners of Conscience: Wei Jingsheng and Fehmi Tosun*

February 14, 2005 · Print This Article

By Brenda Clemons

In its album liner notes, U2 routinely lists the names of individuals whose unjust, politically motivated imprisonments have caught the attention of Amnesty International. In a series of articles, Interference.com will tell the stories of these Prisoners of Conscience and provide updates. In part two we take a look at the two people listed in 1997′s "Pop," Wei Jingsheng and Fehmi Tosun.

Remember Wei Jingsheng, imprisoned in China for 14 years in December 1995

Wei Jingsheng is known as the "stubborn idiot who defied Beijing" (a term he has used to describe himself). Born in 1950, Jingsheng grew up to be radical in his approach to democracy by supporting the communist leader Mao Tse-tung and joining the Red Army, a group of young militants who encouraged the working class and students to rise up against authority.

Jingsheng was working as an electrician at the Beijing zoo when he began to write about democracy. He published a magazine, Explorations, and wrote regularly on the democracy wall—a wall in Beijing where activists wrote freely about the failings of the Chinese government. As criticism grew stronger and harsher the Chinese government became more intolerant and the wall was taken down.

In October 1979, Jingsheng was arrested, tried and convicted of counterrevolution. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. During this time he suffered torture, solitary confinement and forced labor camps. As a result his health diminished and he now suffers from a heart condition.

He was paroled in 1993 in a move designed by the Chinese government to gain support for its bid to host the 2000 Olympics. Upon his release Jingsheng was quick to reestablish himself as a threat to the government by talking to foreign journalists and speaking openly about human rights violations in China.

Jingsheng enjoyed only six months of freedom before he was arrested and sentenced to 14 more years of prison. He was soon released after Chinese President Jiang Zemin met with U.S. President Bill Clinton. Jingsheng was then exiled to the United States where he continues to receive treatment for his heart condition.

Jingsheng was nominated seven times for the Nobel Peace Prize and is the author of several essays and other writings including the book, "The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writings."

Jingsheng continues to be outspoken, saying that U.S. policy towards China needs to be about more than trade, because the only Chinese people benefiting are the bureaucrats and their families. He says that his time in prison was "justified" because it had an effect on and (hopefully) improved the lives of billions of Chinese.

Remember Fehmi Tosun, "disappeared" in Turkey October 1995

Fehmi Tosun was a 36-year-old construction worker who was captured early one morning in October 1995. He was walking to his job in the Avcilar district of Istanbul, when three men with walking talkies grabbed him and put him in a white van. All of this was witnessed by his wife, Hanim, who was watching from the balcony of their house.

It is believed Tosun was arrested because he was an ethic Kurd and a labor unionist. In 1974, Turkey conducted a full scale military invasion of the Republic of Cyprus, a nation it continues to occupy 37 percent of, and is accused of conducting a genocidal campaign against ethnic Kurds.

Tosun is just one of many "disappeared" who are taken into custody and never seen again. It is believed that these people die under interrogation and their bodies are disposed of in unmarked mass graves. This method creates an atmosphere of fear which allows the regime greater control over the populace.

Tosun is presumed dead and is survived by his wife and five children who continue to fight for justice. Hanim was arrested and given a four-day sentence for petitioning the government to allow her children to be educated in the Kurdish language. Her children regularly participate in protest against the Turkey government and its human rights violations.

On Feb. 7, 2002, the Turkish government, in its effort to gain entry into the European Union, announced the demise of the PKK, the governmental branch that carried out arrests and interrogations of Kurds. Hanim Tosun was awarded a settlement in the amount of 40,000 EUR for the disappearance of her husband.

For more information on Prisoners of Conscience like Wei Jingsheng and Fehmi Tosun, and what you can do to help their causes, visit Amnesty International.


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