[JURIST] The Chinese government released two democracy activists [HRIC press release] Thursday after serving eight years of their ten-year prison sentences, according to US-based Human Rights in China (HRIC) [advocacy website]. The two activists, Yang Zili and Zhang Yonghai, were sentenced [HRIC report] to prison along with two other activists in 2003 for "subversion of state power" [JURIST news archive] and "attempting to overthrow the Communist Party" after publishing online essays advocating political reform and rural democratization. After their release, Yang and Zhang will be subject to a two-year ban [AP report] on unauthorized communication with Western journalists, and prevented from gathering with other dissidents. Yang nonetheless participated in an interview [NYT report] with the New York Times Friday in Beijing, in apparent contravention of the ban. According to HRIC, all four of the dissidents, including the two who remain imprisoned, Xu Wei and Jin Haike, have complained of harsh treatment and intolerable living conditions in Chinese prisons.
China's official Communist Party [official website] has been criticized by rights groups [AI report, PDF; HRIC advocacy website] for its treatment of emerging opposition parties. Several prominent counterrevolutionaries have been imprisoned, including Hu Shigen [PEN profile], who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but released [JURIST report] in August after serving 16 years. In June 2008, the US State Department said in its annual Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports [text] that China "continued to deny its citizens basic democratic rights, and law enforcement authorities suppressed those perceived to threaten the legitimacy or authority of the Chinese Communist Party," charges which the Chinese government called "denial of reality and utterly groundless." [official statement; JURIST report].