Chinese political dissident Hu Jia freed from prison


CHINESE POLITICAL dissident Hu Jia was released yesterday after serving over three years in prison for subversion, just days after controversial artist Ai Weiwei was released on bail.

Unlike Ai’s release, Mr Hu’s release had been scheduled for release for some time, and his wife Zeng Jinyuan had complained of harassment in the run-up to her husband’s release.

“Safe, very happy. Needs to recuperate for a period of time,” she wrote in a Twitter message.

She said that he would be deprived of his political rights for one year and would not be able to speak to the media.

What looks like the most likely scenario is that Mr Hu will be kept under house arrest at his home – in his case the exact same scenario as before he was jailed.

This is the fate that awaits Ai for the next year, and is also what happened to the blind, barefoot lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who has been under a particularly brutal form of house arrest since his release from jail last year.

Anyone coming out of custody is being immediately muzzled by the authorities, and Phelim Kine, Asia researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, said he feared house arrest could be a new policy.

“I fear this could be a trend. A prohibition on contact with the media was a condition of Hu Jia’s sentence, with one year’s deprivation of political rights on his release, and his wife had warned that his release would not be ‘normal’,” he said.

Since February, China’s Communist Party has been running a tough crackdown on dissidents, prompted by fears that the “Jasmine revolutions” plaguing the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East and North Africa could spread to China and undermine one-party rule.

The Communist leadership is due to change next year and this is a very sensitive time. This period also marks the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party.

Hu Jia’s scenario is similar to that of his fellow dissenter, Ai Weiwei, who was released last week after three months in detention, looking thinner and quite drawn and saying the terms of his parole forbade him from making any statements.

His release comes as Chinese premier Wen Jiabao is visiting Europe on trips to Hungary, Britain and Germany.

A mild-mannered, slight figure who suffers from liver ailments, the 37-year-old dissident was detained by police in late December 2007 after spending more than 200 days under house arrest in his Beijing apartment complex, which is called Bobo Freedom City.

Mr Hu was back in the ironically named apartment complex yesterday with his wife and child.

“For this one year, the focus should be on treating his cirrhosis, caring for parents and child, to avoid being arrested again,” his wife wrote.

Mr Hu was sentenced for “inciting to subvert state power” by writing articles about freedom and talking to foreign journalists.

He was found guilty of writing articles about human rights in the run-up to the Olympics in 2008 that were posted on overseas Chinese websites such as Boxun.

This prompted accusations that he was conspiring with foreign elements to sabotage the Beijing games.

He also gave interviews to many foreign news media and embassies, won the European Union’s Sakharov prize in 2008 and was also in the frame for the Nobel peace prize at one point.

Until Liu Xiaobo’s arrest and conviction on subversion charges, and his subsequent Nobel peace prize, Mr Hu was probably China’s best-known human rights defender, and he spoke out on Aids, the environment, Tibetan autonomy and free speech.

Mr Hu is also a vegetarian and Buddhist, who has criticised China’s controls on that religion in Tibet and voiced sympathy for the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader reviled by Beijing.