A controversial Hong Kong-based publisher and writer has been released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence in a south China prison. He was released on Sunday, February 26.
Yao Wentian was arrested in October 2013 while preparing to release an unauthorized biography of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, reported KaoSod.
The 83 year old publisher was repeatedly denied appeals for medical release filed by Dui Hua, a respected San Francisco-based rights monitoring group.
Yao was sentenced to 10 years and fined for “smuggling common goods” after he brought construction materials into China to help a friend who was refurbishing his apartment. He was accused of failing to declare the value of the goods at customs, not normally a crime punished with such a harsh sentence.
Yao’s publishing of sensitive books was “almost certainly the reason for his imprisonment,” Dui Hua said.
Reports at the time said police and customs agents appeared to have been lying in wait for Yao as he crossed the border into China with several cans of paint for a longtime friend.
Efforts to reach Yao for comment have been unsuccessful, and his former attorney, Mo Shaoping, confirmed that he has had no contact with Yao or his family since his trial.
Yao’s son, Yao Yongzhan, was arrested during the 1989 pro-democracy movement centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square while serving as a student leader in Shanghai. However, he was released from custody thanks to the intervention of Dui Hua and is now a citizen of the US.
Yao founded Morning Bell Press in 2006 and built a reputation for publishing works by Chinese dissidents, liberal intellectuals, exiled scholars, and officials ousted for political reasons.
The book that sparked his arrest was Godfather of China: Xi Jinping, by veteran dissident writer Yu Jie, who fled to the United States in 2010 after alleged torture and harassment over his criticisms of the regime.
After Yao’s arrest, several other independent Hong Kong publishers were also rounded up, raising deep fears over China’s trampling of the city’s civil liberties that exploded into months of anti-government demonstrations in 2019.
Hong Kong’s publishing industry is now almost entirely under the Communist Party of China control and the last pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was closed after it was raided by police and its founder, 75 year old Jimmy Lai, imprisoned.
Lai now faces collusion charges that could result in a life sentence.
Among Hong Kong publishers still detained is Gui Minhai, a naturalized Swedish citizen who was abducted from his vacation home in Thailand in 2015, apparently by Chinese agents, only to turn up months later on Chinese television confessing to his part in a deadly traffic accident.
He was rearrested while travelling by train to Beijing in the company of two Swedish diplomats and in 2020 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas.”
The arrests of the Hong Kong publishers, many of them associated with once-famed Causeway Bay Books, effectively ended the publication of sometimes gossipy stories about Chinese politicians that had been hugely popular, especially among visitors from mainland China, where such books are banned.
Hong Kong publisher Yiu Man-tin (second right) is out of jail after serving 10 years in China for “smuggling” charges.
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