A former university lecturer who had started an opposition party has been released at the end of his 10-year jail term for subversion, RFA has learned.
Former Nanjing Normal University professor Guo Quan was detained on Nov. 13, 2008, and his arrest sparked a wider investigation into his opposition New People's Party he claimed had 10 million members among the country's most disgruntled citizens.
He was jailed for 10 years for "incitement to subvert state power," he said, and confirmed his release in a brief interview with RFA.
"The Nanjing police department sent someone to meet me at the prison gate, and bring me back to the local police station to tell me some things, then I went home," he said. "They reconnected the water and electricity at my apartment, so I can live a normal life."
"I am living in a residential compound, and I will be applying for social welfare payments and so on, and then I should have my own cell phone in about three weeks' time," he said.
"I won't be able to contact anyone until then, and I plan to get myself up to speed with everything that's been going on."
In a recorded fragment of phone conversation sent to RFA, Guo also told his friends: "I would like to thank comrades for their support and concern, and especially those who support our cause."
Guo also paid tribute to late Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in police custody in July 2017, and to a nationwide crackdown on hundreds of human rights lawyers, law firms and associated activists since July 2015.
"While in prison, I was able to learn about a number of developments that have taken place in recent years, using various means, including the news that Liu Xiaobo had gone to prison, and later of his death from illness," Guo says in the clip.
"I also learned about the July 2015 crackdown on the legal profession."
'Fortunate' not to have died in jail
Guo said he felt "fortunate" not to have died, as has been the fate of many of his friends.
"I think I'm still in fairly good health, and I will do my best to reply to everyone's messages," he said.
Zhang Yu, co-ordinator of the Writers in Prison Committee of the writers' group Independent Chinese PEN, said he had managed to speak with Guo directly.
"When I spoke to him, he sounded OK, quite chipper," Zhang said. "He also told me he didn't get sick, and he seemed to speak very freely."
But he said Guo was unlikely to be free of restrictions, and would be unlikely to make contact with old friends and fellow activists for the time being.
"He wants to start a calligraphy business, because he thinks his calligraphy is pretty good, and he wants to sell his calligraphy for a living," Zhang said. "That's his plan."
Guo founded Dec. 17 to represent anyone petitioning the government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party for social justice in land disputes, forced evictions, and allegations of official wrongdoing.
Guo was fired from Nanjing Normal University on Dec. 6 2007 for allegedly violating its constitution and rules on the conduct of faculty.
On Dec. 14, 2007, he was expelled from the Communist-approved ersatz opposition group Democratic Parties and Factions, and on Dec. 17 last year announced the founding of the New People's Party, with himself as chairman.
The main focus of the party was petitioners, and Guo claimed a membership of 10 million dispossessed ordinary people, including petitioners and former military personnel.
At the time, he wrote that the party's platform was to represent ordinary people and to stand for a multiparty political system, including social welfare benefits and private property rights protection.
Afterwards, Guo updated his website almost daily, with a total of 347 articles posted by the time it was closed by the authorities.
Opposition parties not allowed
The last known attempt by Chinese political activists to set up an opposition party ended in December 1998 with the sentencing of several China Democracy Party (CDP) 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 “incitement to subvert state power."
Guo's wife Li Jing fled to the U.S. with the couple's son after his imprisonment.
Guo had been an academic and professor at Nanjing Normal University with a degree in law and a doctorate in philosophy. He started to publicly advocate for greater democracy and human rights in 2007, when he published an open letter to then President Hu Jintao calling for “multi-party elections under a comprehensive welfare system," Li told a congressional panel in 2012.
Several days later, he published another letter, this time to then Premier Wen Jiabao defending the rights of 590,000 employees laid off by China National Petroleum Corporation and China Petroleum Chemical Corporation and arguing for the abolition of the now-defunct “re-education through labor” system.
On Dec. 6, 2007, the Communist Party Committee of Nanjing Normal University fired him from his job as professor. He was transferred to the university library to work in data management. He was stripped of his associate professor salary and allowed to work for only minimum wage, Li said.
On Dec. 17, 2007 Guo posted the New People's Party charter online, and ran a blog criticizing one-party dictatorship and official corruption, often speaking out on behalf of vulnerable groups.
He was formally arrested on Dec. 19, 2008 and sentenced on Aug. 7, 2009 to 10 years in prison, with three years’ deprivation of political rights.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Shi Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.