BEIJING (AP) — A historian jailed in China for leaking military secrets — reportedly from books about the Korean War — was released two years early Thursday in what a rights group said was an increasingly rare act of clemency for a political prisoner there.
Xu Zerong, a Hong Kong-based, Oxford-trained political scientist, was sentenced in late 2001 to 10 years in jail for leaking state secrets and another three years for illegal business operations. The heavy sentence alarmed fellow academics and drew the attention of human rights groups.
Xu, who also goes by the name David Tsui, said in a phone interview that he was released Thursday morning from Guangzhou Prison in southern Guangdong province's capital city.
"Of course, regaining my freedom makes me very happy," said Xu, who sounded upbeat. "I must thank the friends outside who supported me."
Rights groups say the main charge against Xu, now 57, was that he had obtained and copied books on the Korean War and had provided them to a scholar in South Korea.
Xu was granted three sentence reductions for good behavior — resulting in a total reduction of two years. His sentence also included time he spent in detention before the trial.
The San Francisco-based human rights group Dui Hua Foundation, which has worked on Xu's case for a decade, welcomed his release but said such clemency has become rare.
"In recent years, we've noticed fewer and fewer sentence reductions for individuals who are serving sentences for state security offenses in China," said Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong Kong-based research manager for the group.
"We very much welcome the clemency shown in this case and it's notable in the context of what we all see as being one of the harshest crackdowns in recent memory going on right now," Rosenzweig said.
Xu said he planned to get a health check in Guangzhou and return to Hong Kong in July. He said he might move to Britain to live with his son, who is 29.
Xu said he had to do four years of manual labor but was allowed to spend the rest of the time working on his autobiography as well as writing research articles about topics such as China's water diversion projects.
"For us who do academia, to have this time to focus completely on learning and if you are doing it with great enthusiasm, serving another year or two in jail also doesn't matter that much," he said, laughing. "So I don't feel like prison was too big of a waste."