Authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan on Friday released political activist Ding Mao after holding him for nine months in connection with online calls for a "jasmine" revolution, inspired by recent popular uprisings in the Middle East.
But Ding's wife, Feng Xia, said the activist hadn't entirely regained his freedom, either.
"I was waiting outside the Mianyang City Detention Center for him at 11:00 a.m.," Feng said on Friday.
"He had great big circles around his eyes, because he hadn't been sleeping properly," she said.
Ding was held for a total of 286 days in the detention center, Feng said, but he wasn't yet a free man.
"They have changed it to 'residential supervision,'" she said.
Ding, 43, was taken into criminal detention on charges of "incitement to subvert state power" after an online campaign for silent gatherings in major Chinese cities inspired by a wave of popular protests in the Middle East.
While the calls for "jasmine" gatherings sparked a widespread crackdown on political activists and dissidents across China, the actual events proved an anti-climax, with actual participants not clearly identified, and greatly outnumbered by police and journalists.
Incitement to subvert
Ding confirmed the charges against him in a brief interview on Friday. "It was incitement to subvert state power," he said.
"In concrete terms, that means that I reposted something online about the jasmine protests."
Ding said police said the investigation into the charges against him was still ongoing.
"They changed my detention to six months under residential surveillance," he said. "They didn't give a reason."
Ding said the police had repeatedly asked him the source of the post that he forwarded, but that he didn't know who sent it.
"How should I know that?" he said.
He said he was held in a cell alongside at least 20 other people, but that he wasn't badly treated.
"Obviously I had my own feelings [about being there], but there was no way to express an opinion, given the way they managed things," Ding said.
Ding said he had maintained his innocence throughout his detention.
"I was detained on Feb. 19 in Chengdu," he said. "There were no formalities, and I was criminally detained 24 hours later."
"By the time they issued the documentation for my criminal detention, I had already been taken to the Mianyang city eastern police station,"
Ding is unsure whether he still has a job, and will have to report to his local police station on a weekly basis, "for continued investigations."
"I don't even know if I have a job," he said. "I live in Chengdu, but because my household registration is still in Mianyang, I have to report to police in Mianyang every week."
Treatment of activists
Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi said the measures being taken against Ding were less hard-line than the authorities' treatment of other activists, including prominent artist Ai Weiwei and Sichuan-based Ran Yunfei.
"We welcome this, but at the same time, we can't forget that there are still a lot of other people behind bars because of their search for freedom and democracy," Huang said.
"We hope that the Chinese government will move with the momentum of developments on the international scene and within the civil rights movement in China," he said.
He called on Beijing to terminate its policies of oppression, targeting political activists, rights activists and religious believers.
Ding's political activism began in 1989, when he was chairman of an independent labor union in Lanzhou; one of many branches that sprang up around the country, to official consternation.
Ding was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in 1992 for setting up an opposition party, the China Social Democratic Party.
Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.