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Wang Bingzhang is seen in a Feb. 6, 1998, file photo.

SAM MIRCOVICH/REUTERS

Six former Canadian justice and foreign affairs ministers have penned an open letter urging China to immediately release an ailing Chinese dissident and allow him to return to Canada to live with his family.

Wang Bingzhang, a human-rights advocate who studied at McGill University’s faculty of medicine, has been languishing in a Chinese prison for the past 18 years after Chinese secret police kidnapped him in Vietnam in 2002 and smuggled him to China, where he was sentenced to life in prison in solitary confinement.

In the letter to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the six former Canadian ministers say Dr. Wang has suffered three debilitating strokes and has been denied access to family members who live in Canada.

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“He continues to suffer from other chronic diseases, including high blood pressure and deep vein thrombosis, putting his life at extreme risk, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote. “Yet he has consistently been denied access to Canadian family members, most of whom have been barred from entering China.”

The six – former justice ministers Anne McLellan, Irwin Cotler and Allan Rock and former foreign affairs ministers Lloyd Aworthy, Lawrence Cannon and Andre Ouellet – asked for the immediate release of Dr. Wang “so that his needless and wrongful suffering may end and that he may live out his remaining days with his family in Canada.”

They also urged Beijing to provide Dr. Wang’s family with his medical records, so an independent assessment can be made of his care, and to lift the restrictions that bar his family members from China.

Dr. Wang is a Chinese national, but many of his immediate family members, including his younger brother, his wife and children, are Canadian citizens and residents. His sisters live in British Columbia.

The former Canadian politicians say Dr. Wang – the former leader of the overseas Chinese democracy movement – was illegally abducted in Vietnam and convicted of trumped-up espionage and terrorism charges in a sham trial that lasted only half a day.

The six say there is new evidence from witnesses that their testimony was false.

“At trial, Dr. Wang was denied the opportunity to speak or present evidence, and no credible evidence or live witness testimony was presented against him,” they wrote. “Moreover there is now powerful evidence that the case against Dr. Wang was falsified. At the very least this mass of compelling exonerating evidence calls for a new trial.”

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International organizations such as the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights have voiced their opposition to Dr. Wang’s imprisonment, calling it arbitrary.

Parliament and the U.S. Congress have passed resolutions calling on China to release Dr. Wang and allow him to return to Canada.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not have an immediate response to the open letter.

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