Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang on Monday detained a prominent member of a now-banned pro-democracy party for questioning on suspicion of "subversion," just months after his release from his second jail term for subversion based on a poem he wrote.
Zhu Yufu was released from the Zhejiang No. 4 Prison in March, where he had reported retaliatory treatment, including the cancellation of his meals, after his relatives traveled to the United States to campaign for his release.
Left with no income or health care as a result of his time in jail, Zhu now faces further potential charges, police have told him.
"At around 10.00 a.m. on Sept. 17, Zhu Yufu was visited by uniformed and plainclothes police officers at his home in Shangcheng district, Hangzhou city, who issued him with a summons for questioning and demanded his cooperation," the Hubei-based rights website Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch reported.
The summons document said that the Hangzhou police department had opened an investigation into Zhu, who is under suspicion of "subversion of state power," it said.
Police also searched Zhu's home, confiscating his two notebook computers and five receipts for courier shipments, it said.
"Then Zhu Yufu was taken away for questioning," the report said.
Zhu was released later on Monday, and told RFA that the "investigation" was linked to his recent participation in an art auction via the social media platform WeChat.
"Actually, I am selling my calligraphy right now for purely commercial reasons," Zhu said. "I want to make a living by selling my art, and I wanted to use the auction as a way of testing its value and gaining recognition in the eyes of others about how much it's worth. Then I would have a benchmark."
"This was my first time ... and under normal circumstances I would have to pay [a fee] to the auctioneer, but I didn't have that money, so I asked if they could donate the proceeds to the families of prisoners of conscience," he said.
Zhu said the police officer who questioned him had provided no explanation of the "subversion" investigation, but merely repeated that he had "broken the rules" of his residential surveillance.
"He told me I didn't have the right of publication, but that means I can sell calligraphy, which has nothing to do with publishing anything," he said.
Zhu's wife Jiang Hangli told RFA later on Monday that police had retained his electronic and communications devices. "All of his computers and cell phone are still over there [at the police department]; they just let him come home."
She said Zhu wasn't supposed to speak to the media.
"The state security police told him not to give any interviews," Jiang said.
Zhu's friend and fellow activist Qi Huimin said Zhu is currently in very poor health after serving many years in jail for peacefully opposing the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and he currently lacks any pension or health insurance.
"The authorities refused to give Zhu Yufu a pension because he'd been in jail," Qi told RFA. "That is totally unreasonable."
"Zhu Yufu is in great financial difficulty right now ... I'm guessing that this summons was a kind of warning, because Zhu still has a lot of influence, and he is able to write for money and sell calligraphy," he said.
Friend and fellow activist Zou Wei said the police were deliberately making a mountain out of a molehill.
"They are doing this to act as a deterrent to any other political dissidents," Zou said. "They want people to be nervous and frightened."
Zhu was handed a seven-year jail term in January 2012 for "incitement to subvert state power" after he penned a poem calling on the Chinese people to vote with their feet.
At his trial, the prosecution cited as evidence a poem, “It Is Time,” that Zhu wrote and shared during online calls for 'Jasmine' rallies inspired by protests in the Middle East in early 2011.
Zhu was one of several prominent Chinese political activists who tried to set up the banned China Democracy Party (CDP) by applying for official permits from civil affairs bureaus across the country in 1998, but the attempt ended with the banning of the party and the sentencing of three of its founders to lengthy jail terms.
Zhejiang dissident Wang Youcai, Wuhan-based Qin Yongmin, and Beijing-based Xu Wenli were sentenced, respectively, to 11, 12, and 13 years in prison on charges of "instigation to subvert state power."
Also sentenced were Zhu, Sichuan-based Liu Xianbin, Beijing-based Zha Jianguo, as well as Hangzhou-based Chen Shuqing and Wu Yilong.
Xu Wenli and Wang Youcai were exiled to the United States on "medical parole" on Dec. 24, 2002, and March 4, 2004, respectively.
But CDP activists who remain in China and who have continued their activism have faced repeated jail terms.
Qin was redetained in 2015 and sentenced last July to 13 years' imprisonment by the Wuhan Intermediate People's Court, which convicted him of "incitement to subvert state power." He had served nearly 26 years in jail prior to the latest sentence.
CDP activist Lu Gengsong was jailed for 11 years in June 2016 by the Intermediate People's Court in Hangzhou after pleading not guilty to charges of "incitement to subvert state power."
Chen Shuqing was handed a sentence of 10 years and six months on the same charges.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.