BEIJING, NOV. 15 -- Chinese sources today denied reports circulating here and abroad that China's most famous dissident, Wei Jingsheng, has died while serving a 15-year sentence imposed in 1979.
Wei was recently reported to be making socks in solitary confinement in Beijing's Number One Prison, informed sources said.
Amnesty International reported last week that it had received unspecified "reports from China" that Wei had died after a long illness. Wei became one of the best-known dissidents during a brief period of political liberalization in 1978 and 1979. He was chief editor of the unofficial journal Exploration.
Sources said another prominent dissident active during the same period has been freed after serving a six-year jail term. Lu Lin, a former editor of Exploration, was released in August from the same prison where Wei is being kept. Lu is still under strict police surveillance, sources said.
Lu, 32, was in good health and spirits, the Chinese sources added, and he was not beaten by wardens in contrast with reports by other prisoners of physical abuse.
The trial of Wei marked the end of a brief period of political liberalization when the communist authorities tolerated limited freedom of speech.
Unofficial journals, political and literary, flourished. People expressed grievances and aired ideas on freedom and democracy by sticking up posters along a wall in central Beijing until it was closed in late 1979. Many arrests followed.
Exploration was one of the movement's most outspoken magazines and under Lu and other editors, continued to publish after Wei's imprisonment.
"Regardless of the banners of so-called human rights, democracy and whatever flaunted by Wei Jingsheng, and regardless of people who openly tried to defend him, because of the irrefutable evidence of his counterrevolutionary crimes, he must be punished according to the law," the official People's Daily wrote shortly after his closed trial.
Wei, 37, was found guilty of counterrevolutionary activities and of betraying state secrets.
Amnesty said that earlier this year Wei was reported to be suffering from kidney and heart ailments. His illnesses were ascribed to ill treatment in prison and inadequate medical care.
Amnesty said former prisoners reported Wei was held in solitary confinement for several years, then sent for psychiatric treatment.