Local pols want China to free alleged spy

Bay Area lawmakers have signed onto a letter asking the State Department to investigate whether a U.S. citizen imprisoned in China as a spy for Taiwan deserves to be released on humanitarian grounds.

David Wei Dong’s family and friends say he is being held for political reasons; suffers from serious health problems such as coronary disease, cardiac blood deficiency and acute hypertension; hasn’t received proper medical care in prison; and so should be released.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, wrote the letter, which was co-signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, as well as U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Chuck Schumer, D-NY; and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY.

miller.jpgMiller took the lead at the request of Dong’s family, who live in his district; the New York senators are involved because that’s where he lived before his arrest.

Dong — a former Chinese political dissident and frequent critic of the Communist Party — was arrested by Chinese authorities while on business there in 2003 and was accused of espionage on behalf of Taiwan. Miller says the charges seem false; U.S. authorities believe the best chance to secure his release from China isn’t to overturn his conviction, but rather to convince the Chinese government to release him for medical reasons.

Read the full letter after the jump…

Mr. Christopher R. Hill
Assistant Secretary of State,
East Asian and Pacific Affairs
United States Department of State
2201 “C” Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Hill:

We are writing to express our concern regarding David Wei Dong, an American citizen who is imprisoned in China. It is our understanding that Mr. Dong has been incarcerated on charges of espionage on behalf of Taiwan. We respectfully request that you look into the circumstances relating to his arrest and inform us of your findings, particularly with respect to his health condition, including whether any such information warrants seeking his release on humanitarian grounds.

According to his sister, Linda Dong, and a family friend, George Anthony, Mr. Dong first arrived in the United States in 1986 and shortly thereafter was granted political asylum. At that time, he was a well-known journalist in China, as well as a critic of the Chinese government. Mr. Dong continued his journalism career in the United States for several years. In 1990, he co-authored “Countdown to Tiananmen: The View At The Top,” which was written and published in the United States.

The book is an account of activities by Chinese officials that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre. According to Linda Dong, the book was banned in China, but could still be found there. It is our understanding that when Mr. Dong’s co-authors returned to China, they were arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of stealing state secrets. It is also our understanding that they were released after signing statements implicating Mr. Dong.

Linda Dong and George Anthony advised us that following the book’s publication, Mr. Dong began a new career in business, which specialized in introducing American and Chinese businessmen to one another. As we understand it, on Sept. 27, 2003, Mr. Dong traveled to China with a group of American businessmen and Mayor Eric Martin of St. Martinville, La., in order to promote a special tax-free district that had been formed in Louisiana to attract industry and create jobs. While in China, Mr. Dong was arrested on charges of espionage, and on April 22, 2005, he was convicted in closed court and given a 13-year prison sentence.

We understand Mr. Dong’s case has been further complicated by the fact that he has developed serious health problems while in prison. According to Mr. Dong’s family, he was hospitalized twice during pre-trial confinement and was taken to Dongguan Hospital in 2006 after his incarceration. We have been advised that diagnoses by local health officials confirmed that Mr. Dong is suffering from coronary disease, cardiac blood deficiency and acute hypertension, and that he has not been receiving proper medical care in prison.

For these reasons, we request that you look further into Mr. Dong’s situation and inform us of your findings. Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this important issue. We look forward to your response and to continuing to work with you on this matter.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.