Former Oxford student Dr Xu Zerong has been released from a Chinese prison after being held for 11 years on the grounds of stealing state secrets.
A graduate of St Anthony’s College and specialist in Chinese foreign relations, Zerong – Anglicised name David Tsui – was arrested in Guangdong and held for two years before being sentenced to 13 years imprisonment.
His arrest in June 2000 had sparked a campaign by academics and activists, concerned about its implications for academic freedom in China.
It is believed that for much of his time in prison Zerong was denied communication with the outside world, and that his health may have deteriorated considerably.
The DPhil graduate was accused of stealing state secrets after allegedly photocopying and microfilming four rare books on the Korean War and sending them to South Korea. These books were judged to be top secret. He had allegedly “severely endangered China’s national security”.
Zerong was also found guilty of illegally publishing periodicals and books on the Chinese mainland. According to St Anthony’s – his college at Oxford – this was later argued to be no more than historical research material, which “would amount to violation both of a scholar’s right to receive and impart information regardless of frontiers and of the right to freedom of research and creative activity”.
His sentence was reduced after pressure from academics, human rights campaigners and his former college itself, who protested the severity of the sentence and a supposed lack of clear evidence. They published several letters condemning the detention. One letter, addressed to the President of China, Jiang Zemin, received 340 signatories. Zerong could not be reached for comment.