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China set to free last Tiananmen prisoner – but he’ll be frail and ill

A rights group and fellow former inmate say China’s last-known prisoner held in relation to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests will be released on Saturday, but that he’ll face freedom a frail and mentally ill man.

Miao Deshun’s release follows an 11-month sentence reduction, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based group that advocates for the rights of political prisoners in China.

Dui Hua’s executive director, John Kamm, says the 51-year-old former factory worker is severely ill after spending more than half his life behind bars.

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Miao’s release date could not be independently verified. Authorities did not respond to faxed requests for comment.

Tanks and troops converged in Beijing to quash pro-democracy protests on the night of June 3-4, 1989, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of people.

Miao, then 24, received a suspended death sentence for arson after he was convicted of throwing a basket at a burning tank with other four workers during the protest in 1989.

The sentence was in 1991 commuted to life in jail, and his prison term reduced several times afterwards.

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In May this year, Dui Hua Foundation said Miao was granted a sentence reduction of 11 months for good behaviour and was due to be released from Yanqing Prison in Beijing on Saturday.

Miao had never admitted his wrongdoings in the protest, the foundation said at the time, quoting his former inmate. Dui Hua also noted that Miao suffers from hepatitis B and schizophrenia.

Miao is widely seen as the last person to remain behind bars for his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

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Global Times, the hawkish state-run tabloid, once published an editorial written by its editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, slamming Miao. The commentary said “the life of anyone who bet on the wrong side of history weighs less than a feather”.