Petition seeks US probe in student's poisoning

Updated: 2013-05-06 11:23

By Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily)

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A petition circulating on a White House website asks that President Barack Obama's administration look into the unsolved case of a Chinese university student who was poisoned and paralyzed almost 20 years ago.

Someone with the initials Y.Z. and a Florida address drafted the petition on Friday on the We the People section of the official site.

The petition, which contains misspellings including the name of the victim, asks the administration to "invest (sic) and deport Jasmine Sun who was the main suspect of a famous Thallium poison murder case (victim: Zhu Lin) in China".

More than 70,000 people had "signed" the electronic petition as of Sunday night.

Under rules revised in January by Obama's administration, any petition that gets more than 100,000 signatures in its first 30 days will receive an official response from the president's office. The administration began accepting petitions through its We the People initiative during Obama's first term.

The victim, Zhu Ling, was a third-year chemistry student at Tsinghua University in Beijing when she became ill in December 1994. Her condition soon became serious, but doctors couldn't formulate a diagnosis. By the time they determined Zhu had been poisoned with thallium, her central nervous system was already badly damaged.

Now 40, Zhu remains paralyzed and nearly blind with diminished mental capacity. She is being cared for by her parents, who are in their 70s.

The chief suspect in the poisoning was Zhu's university roommate, Jasmine Sun, who according to the petition entered the United States.

The petition is the latest twist in a case that saw Sun cleared of suspicion by Beijing police after a four-year investigation. By 1999, police said, forensic evidence from the scene had deteriorated to the point that a conviction would be impossible.

The petition quickly drew comments from people in China and Chinese expatriates. Many posted and reposted items about it on social media sites and in online forums.

Haipei Xue, president of the National Council of Chinese Americans, said he believes most of the signatures may have come from Chinese citizens, but the White House website is mean to serve US citizens.

"I think the process isn't in order," he said. "Chinese Internet users should seek an answer from the Chinese government first. Anyhow, the petition will have some social influence on the case."

Jerry Zhang, a Chinese engineer who works in the US, said he signed the petition because he believes the family background of the one-time suspect played a part in the investigation.

"Although Chinese netizens aren't witnesses or legal investigators, we want to call for justice since this case has so many suspicious points," he said. "Hopefully, grass-roots voices can bring hope to the victim's family and push the country's justice system to respond."

In April, a graduate student at Shanghai's Fudan University died after prolonged exposure to N-Nitrosodimethylamine in a case in which his roommate was considered a suspect. That incident brought the unsolved case of Zhu's poisoning back into the spotlight.

Hai Ming, a Chinese-American lawyer in New York, said that even if the number of signatures reaches the 100,000 threshold within 30 days and the White House responds, the president himself isn't authorized to deport anyone. That kind of decision is up to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency tasked with investigating and adjudicating immigration cases.