By Kitty Holland
The Government must continue to press the Chinese authorities to improve human rights, a Trinity College postgraduate student just released from a Chinese labour camp has said.
Mr Zhao Ming, a computer science student, was speaking at a press conference in Dublin yesterday held to mark his return to Ireland.
Released 11 days ago, he has spent the past 22 months in the Tuan-He farm labour camp north of the Chinese capital Beijing. He was detained for "re-education through labour" because of his membership of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Mr Ming said it was "really hard and painful to recall those memories" but said he felt he must "say something of the truth", about the labour camp.
"During one particular period we were only allowed to sleep one or two hours each day," he said.
He was also forced to squat for up to 10 hours a day, "and now I still have no feeling in the bottom part of my legs. Sometimes my feet are in much pain when I sleep."
He described being beaten two weeks before his release "by five policemen using six electric batons to shock me, with electricity at least 30,000 volts".
Though he said he did not think he had been affected permanently by his experiences, Ms Dai Dongxue who campaigned for his release, said the long-term effects were "beyond our minds and imaginations".
Mr Ming's case was raised by the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, with the Chinese Premier, Mr Zhu Rongji, during his visit to Ireland last September. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, also raised the matter with his Chinese counterpart during a visit to China in February. Mr Cowen was given assurances about Mr Ming's release on that occasion.
A concerted campaign was mounted by his fellow students, which won support from, among others, the leader of the Labour party, Mr Ruairí Quinn, Mrs Mary Robinson, Senator David Norris and the President, Mrs McAleese.
Mr Ming said he was "very grateful for all the things the Irish people have been doing" to fight for his release, but added his case was "very, very rare".
"I have a good education and background and support. My situation is much better that the situation for many Falun Gong practitioners in China. I hope the people here will support Falun Gong practitioners in the future," he said.
Ms Mary Lawlor, director of Frontline Defenders and former director of Amnesty International Ireland, said China "violates human rights so systematically, not only of Falun Gong practitioners".
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