Chinese authorities on Sunday freed prominent human rights activist Hu Jia, just days after popular artist Ai Weiwei's release, in an apparent bid to allay rights concerns as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Europe.
Hu returned to his residence outside Beijing early Sunday to be reunited with the family after serving three-and-a-half years in jail, his wife and fellow activist Zeng Jinyan said on Twitter, a micro-blogging site which the government blocks with a censorship firewall.
"On a sleepless night, Hu Jia comes home at 2:30 am. Peaceful, very happy. Needs some time to rest. Thanks to you all," she said.
Hu's cirrhosis of the liver has worsened during his time in jail, she had said last week, emphasizing that prison authorities did not provide adequate medical care.
"During this time, he must treat his cirrhosis and take care of his family," she also said on Twitter.
The 37-year-old Hu was jailed on subversion charges in April 2008 just ahead of the Beijing Olympics after his relentless campaign on issues such as civil rights, the environment, and AIDS.
Political rights deprived
Under his sentence, Hu will be deprived of his political rights for another year, including the right to vote and to give media interviews, Human Rights Watch said.
"Hu Jia should never have been imprisoned in the first place," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "If that injustice is compounded by another form of detention it will show just how shallow the Chinese government's ‘rule of law' commitments are."
"I don't know if he can speak later. At the moment, I want everything to be peaceful. I'm worried that doing interviews at this stage might cause problems. Please understand," Zeng told Reuters in a brief telephone interview.
Hu and Zeng, who have a young daughter, live in an apartment complex in east Beijing called Bobo Freedom City, which was under heavy police guard on Sunday morning.
The couple have suffered repeated detention or lengthy periods of house arrest for their human rights campaigns.
Hu Jia's release followed last week's abrupt freeing from detention of outspoken artist Ai Weiwei—actions widely seen as Beijing's attempt to stave off criticism during Premier Wen's European trip covering Hungary, Britain, and Germany.
Ai said he is still under considerable restrictions at his Beijing home pending trial for "tax evasion."
"I can't give any interviews to the media," Ai said from his Beijing home shortly after his release on Thursday. "I can't talk about anything."
Chinese authorities at times use “economic crimes,” and specifically tax evasion charges, to try to silence dissenters, rights activists have said.
Beijing has cracked down on dissent since February on fears that uprisings across the Arab world could spark challenges to its one-party rule.
The rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders has said 49 people have been detained on suspicion of criminal acts in the ongoing crackdown, most of whom have either been formally arrested, sent to re-education camps, or released on bail awaiting trial.
Many of those detained for speaking up on rights issues have been ordered to remain silent after their releases.
Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.