Chinese political dissident Hu Jia freed as Chinese Premier Wen visits Britain

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hu Jia
Image: Stevenliuyi.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The Chinese government released human rights activist Hu Jia from prison on Sunday after he had served over three years for subversion. His release, which had been scheduled in advance, occurred just days after controversial artist Ai Weiwei was unexpectedly released on bail after three months of detention.

Hu was released on the same day that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao began his visit to Britain, the first country on his three-nation Europe trade tour.

Described by the Irish Times as a "mild-mannered, slight figure who suffers from liver ailments", the 37-year-old Hu is a prominent Chinese dissident who had spent years campaigning for civil liberties, environmentalism, and on behalf of suffers of HIV/AIDS before his imprisonment. He was imprisoned in April 2008 for "inciting to subvert state power" by writing articles about human rights in the period before the 2008 Olympic Games. He had also given many interviews to foreign news media and government embassies. He was first detained in December 2007 and his arrest came after he had spent more than 200 days under house arrest. In 2008 while in prison, he won the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, awarded by the European Parliament.

Hu's wife Zeng Jinyuan said via Twitter that her husband lost his political rights upon his release and cannot speak to the media for a period of one year.

Cquote1.svg (My parents) have told me to just be a normal citizen and don't confront the system because this system is very cruel, using the country's absolute power to violate people's dignity without restraint. But I can only tell my parents I will be careful. Cquote2.svg

—Hu Jia, human rights activist

Hu was briefly interviewed on Sunday via telephone by Hong Kong's Cable TV, and indicated that despite the danger, he would not give up his work. "(My parents) have told me to just be a normal citizen and don't confront the system because this system is very cruel, using the country's absolute power to violate people's dignity without restraint. But I can only tell my parents I will be careful", he said.

Although recent releases of high-profile dissidents such as Hu and Ai may seem to some that China is loosening its repressive policies against dissidents, activists and academics said yesterday that the determination of the Chinese government to silence dissent has not lessened and those speaking up continue to be rounded up and detained.

Huang Qi, a dissident released this month from prison and interviewed by telephone, said, "We closely follow dozens of rights' defense cases, and I've found that that at the grassroots and lowest levels of society in China, the rights defense environment has not seen any fundamental improvements." He warned, "One cannot count how many ordinary people are being locked up or taken away every day."

However, Wan Yanhau who is a Chinese activist living in the US said there might be a short term diminishing of the crackdowns on human rights activists. He suggested the government could be realizing that the harsh treatment of dissidents has not stopped recent episodes of unrest. The riots by migrant workers in the Guangdong province and protests by ethnic Mongolians are recent examples. Further, China is receiving harsh criticism from European countries with which it wants to increase trade.

But illegal detentions are increasing, according to Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch, and are signs that China is not moving toward compliance with international norms.


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