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Political Prisoner He Depu Writes to IOC President Jacques Rogge

August 6, 2008

He Depu (何德普), a veteran dissident serving an eight year prison sentence, appeals to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge in a letter released today to Human Rights in China by his family. In his letter, He Depu tells President Rogge that prison conditions in China have worsened as a result of the Olympic Games, especially for political prisoners. He calls on President Rogge to visit Beijing's No. 2 Prison (北京第二监狱) in order to understand the human rights conditions there.

The letter, dated April 26, 2008, passed through many hands before reaching He Depu's family.

He Depu, one of China's most prominent political prisoners, participated in the Democracy Wall Movement in 1979, the democracy movement in 1989, and a signature campaign for Wang Dan between 1993 and 1995. He also established a magazine, Beijing Youth, and in 1998 helped form the banned China Democracy Party. He Depu was detained on November 4, 2002, after signing an open letter to the 16th Party Congress calling for political reform. On November 6, 2003, he was sentenced to eight years in prison and two years' subsequent deprivation of political rights for "inciting subversion of state power." He has repeatedly suffered abuse while in detention. In September 2007, HRIC learned that prison authorities had threatened to deprive He of family visits after his wife, Jia Jianying (贾建英), revealed the poor prison conditions under which he was living, which were reported on by overseas media. In February 2008, Jia appealed to the prison authorities to release him for medical care.

Below is the full text of He's letter translated by Human Rights in China:

April 26, 2008

Most Honorable Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge:


I am a political prisoner in China. Because I wrote and published articles on my political views on the Internet in 2002, I was sentenced to 8 years in prison by the Chinese government. Because I live in Beijing, I am currently being held in the Beijing No. 2 Prison, Prison Block 17 (北京第二监狱17分监区). Today marks the 100th day before the Beijing Olympic Games, and I am writing this letter in the hope that I might use the Olympics as a "catalyst" to change the human rights situation in prisons, even if the change is small and basic. What worries me most is that this "catalyst" will not have a catalyzing effect in Chinese prisons whatsoever.

In August 2007, you wrote an article entitled, "A Catalyst, Not a Cure" about China hosting the Olympics, which was published in the International Herald Tribune and was reprinted in the Chinese media under different titles. I have read it many times. In your piece you wrote: "It is natural for human rights and other organizations to place their causes in the spotlight that the Beijing Olympic Games is casting on China, and to draw attention to reforms they advocate. However, the Games can only be a catalyst for change and not a panacea." You wrote with great honesty, and I agree with you that torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment in Chinese prisons will not be thoroughly resolved by one session of the Olympic Games. But the question is, whether the human rights situation in Chinese prisons is improving or worsening. Is this catalyst having a catalyzing effect?

I believe that the Olympic Games should not just be understood as a collection of competitions of active sports. They are athletic competitions, but even more so, they should be viewed as a movement for social progress that embodies the values of humanity, or a movement that promotes human civilization. As for what you wrote in "A Catalyst, Not a Cure": "The Olympic Movement does not exist in a vacuum. Sport is part of society. With Beijing, however, one of the great challenges will be to manage expectations that the Olympic Games can influence China's evolution to the extent many observers desire."

I have briefly described below how uniquely unfortunate the human rights situation is for Chinese prisoners, and how urgently it needs to change. This is our hope as political prisoners.

First, the regulations for disobedient prisoners are inhumane and discriminatory. There is a rulebook in prisons called, "Regulations for the Management of Special Prisoners," (特管犯管理规定) in which there are many limitations for "special prisoners." There are even more limitations specifically governing political prisoners who do not admit guilt. This booklet strictly differentiates the treatments of political prisoners and regular criminals. Political prisoners are not allowed to call or meet with their families, obtain a reduced sentence, be interviewed by the media, or participate in recreational activities organized by the prison. Letters written to their families are often not delivered. Letters sent from organizations or individuals to political prisoners are not delivered, in accordance with these regulations. The booklet stipulates numerous limitations that are specifically for political prisoners, I will not mention them all here. You could say that the "Regulations for the Management of Special Prisoners" are comparable to racial segregation and discrimination. The Olympics are fast approaching, but the limitations placed on us as political prisoners in Beijing have not only not lessened, but rather have increased.

Second, the food and medical treatment provided in prison are extremely poor. For more than ten years, prisoners’ food has been worsening by the year, and every month, the quality of food has been steadily declining. Originally we prisoners thought that the quality of our food would improve during the Olympics. No one could have imagined that as the Olympics approached, it actually got worse and worse. Prisoners call the government food "rabbit feed" because it has neither oil nor meat. For many years, there have been two numbers that have been particularly high: the first is the number of sick prisoners, the second is the extremely high number of deaths. There are three reasons for these high numbers:

  1. Very little money is spent on food, so the food is very bad and prisoners are malnourished;
  2. Sick prisoners are unable to gain access to quality medical treatment;
  3. In accordance with regulations, prisoners have very few opportunities to go outdoors and breathe fresh air.

Last summer, in order to welcome the Olympics, the No. 2 Prison remodeled its roof. As a result, for almost a half year, prisoners were not permitted to go outside for fresh air. In May of last year, due to the Olympics, the prison also increased prisoner supervision. The prison warden gave orders to take away thermometers as well as equipment for measuring blood pressure. The reason was that they contained mercury which the prisoners might attempt to drink. Now, prisoners suffering from high blood pressure normally have no way of monitoring their own blood pressure, seriously affecting their health. The conditions of prison hospitals are extremely poor. The doctors are unqualified and have poor medical skills. If the current living conditions do not change, then the health of political prisoners and that of other prisoners will continue to suffer during the Olympics.

Third, as the Olympics approach, prisoners have been put under severe control and surveillance. The Beijing penal system’s police have placed harsher limitations on the living conditions and learning environment of prisoners. Even our extremely small and pathetic "study rooms" have all been completely shut down. As a result, prisoners have no choice but to be bound to their prison cells. Prison cells are smaller than 20 square meters, but contain ten beds each. It is said that prisoner supervision will continue to tighten, and will only end after the Olympics are over. If the most basic living spaces of prisoners (such as washrooms, bathrooms, TV lounges, storage space, and study rooms) are all restricted, how is it possible to speak of Olympic activities? It would be more practical to discuss human rights.

I have a question for Mr. Rogge: 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. How does this make you feel?

Finally, I hope that when it is convenient, you can come just once to the Beijing No. 2 Prison to see what it is like for the prisoners living here, give some attention to the human rights’ conditions of prisoners, and see if your so-called "catalyst" has really done any good. We are not asking for a total transformation in the human rights condition. We are only asking for a small, basic change.

To your health,
He Depu – Beijing political prisoner
April 26, 2008, Beijing No. 2 Prison, Prison Block 17

For more information on He Depu, see: