UPDATED at 11:15 a.m. EST on 2013-06-27
A rights activist in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin who was sent to labor camp after texting political poems to friends has vowed to sue the ruling Chinese Communist Party for illegal detention.
Yu Yunfeng was sentenced to two years' "re-education through labor" by Harbin authorities in 2011 for "serious disturbance of public order" as well as "opposing the Party and opposing socialism."
Yu, under the online nickname "Ruya Youxian," had posted a series of satirical verses highly critical of the government over a number of years, mainly disseminating them via cell phone to his contacts.
Yu was sentenced to a 10-day administrative sentence by local police after he sent out a poem in May 2011, which called on the people of Harbin to embrace democracy and human rights.
After his release, he sent further verses to the cell phones of 28 other people, and was hauled in once more before being sent for "re-education through labor," a controversial police-run system of punishments of up to four years' duration without trial.
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Wu Zhenqi, who was hired by Yu's relatives to defend him, was detained and sent back to Guangzhou by Harbin police, while Yu's relatives were called in for questioning.
Treatment in labor camp
"To begin with, they stopped me from reading newspapers in the labor camp, and wouldn't let me call my family," Yu said in an interview this week following his release on June 22.
Netizens launched an online postcard campaign in his support, but these were withheld by the authorities, he said.
"My friends got me a case of good tea, but they sent it back again with the words 'not known here' written on it," Yu said.
"Inside, the food was truly terrible ... and some of the things they did in there were beyond imagining. Violations of people's human rights happened repeatedly, but not as frequently as in the past," he said.
Yu said he planned to sue the police for illegally detaining him.
"I will be filing a lawsuit so as to protect the dignity of the Constitution, justice and the law," he said.
"It is totally unacceptable that they accused me of a crime that doesn't even exist, namely of opposing socialism and the Party."
Yu said that his actions were protected under China's legal system, adding that authorities had "violated the law and the Constitution."
"They took away my freedom for two years."
Chinese authorities are quietly reforming the country's controversial "re-education through labor" system amid growing calls for public information on the process, a U.S.-based rights group said earlier this month.
The administration of President Xi Jinping has vowed to reform the system this year, following a prolonged campaign by lawyers, former inmates, and rights activists to abolish it.
Earlier this month, authorities in Beijing detained filmmaker and former New York Times photographer Du Bin for "illegal publishing," after he exposed abuses of inmates at the Masanjia women's labor camp in the northeastern province of Liaoning.
Lawyers argue that the "re-education through labor" system has no basis in legislation, is a hangover from the political turmoil and kangaroo courts of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and represents a long-running violation of the rights of citizens.
Some 160,000 Chinese people are held without trial in 350 labor camp-style facilities at any given time, government figures show.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin Service and Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.