China releases Catholic priests from jail, hints at other paroles


BEIJING -- China has released a large number of Roma Catholic priests from prison in recent months and is signaling that it may free other political prisoners before completion of their sentences.

John T. Kamm, a U.S. businessman with experience in pressing Beijing for human rights concessions, said last week that the Chinese had told him of the release of 18 of the 20 Catholics whom the Vatican knew to be imprisoned. The Catholic Church unofficially confirmed 17 of the 18 releases, he said.

Freeing the prisoners seems to be part of a broad strategy by China to improve its image abroad.

The authorities seemed to signal further releases by pointing out to Mr. Kamm the article in the criminal code that permits the government to parole prisoners early, before even half their terms are served.

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