BEIJING — A top Chinese environmentalist said Tuesday he was beaten and suffered brutal treatment while serving a three-year jail term imposed after he spoke out about rampant pollution in a major lake.
Wu Lihong also told AFP that authorities tried to force him to confess to bogus extortion charges. He defiantly vowed to clear his name.
"I am innocent, it's obvious that the authorities have sought to harm me. I will continue to appeal the conviction and seek to clear my name," Wu, 42, told AFP by phone from his home in Yixing city in the eastern province of Jiangsu.
Wu was arrested in April 2007 and sentenced to three years on extortion charges after campaigning for years against pollution in Taihu lake, one of China's biggest freshwater lakes and once famed for its beauty.
Wu, who was released on April 12, said he was repeatedly beaten in jail, kept in solitary confinement and denied telephone contact and visits with family and friends.
"They used tree branches to whip my head, burned my hands with cigarettes and kicked and beat me until my arms and legs were swollen and my head was spinning," Wu said.
"In July 2007, Yixing's (Communist) party secretary and the police chief told me, 'If you confess in writing, we will let you go. If you don't cooperate, then we will fabricate evidence to make you a criminal.'"
Wu was once given an environmental award by the government for his efforts to clean up Taihu and shame the lake's major industrial polluters.
But he was detained temporarily in 2002. Wu has said Yixing officials feared his activism would cause economic losses to the region's industry.
After his arrest in 2007, his wife and colleagues clamoured for his release and accused the local government and police of seeking to torture a confession out of him.
A toxic algae bloom in Taihu lake in May that year contaminated water supplies for more than 2.3 million people in Wuxi city, which sits across the lake from Yixing, bringing nationwide attention to the issue.
Wu was finally convicted in August 2007 after repeated delays in his public trial, which his relatives said at the time were ordered by local authorities so that Wang could heal from his prison beatings.
Wu alleged other humiliating treatment in jail, including even tight restrictions on eating.
"When (guards) said 'start', I could eat. When they said 'stop', I had to stop no matter whether I had finished eating or not," he said.
He also said he was forced to run in circles outside after meals "until I was mentally exhausted," and was kept in a windowless cell. The only contact he was allowed was with two prison guards.