Alone again, actively

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2007, 12:00am

The first time I met Zheng Enchong in 2002, when he appeared at the news bureau unannounced, I thought he was another of the many petitioners who turned to the media because they had no other outlet to express grievances against the government.

But he was clearly more: a lawyer and an organiser of petitioners battling evictions on the mainland. He brought a resident forced out of his home on Shanghai's Suzhou creek, one of the hundreds of cases he advised on.

I wouldn't see him again in person for nearly five years, until we sat down for his first face-to-face interview with an overseas media organisation since he was detained in June 2003. The day he was detained, I had arranged to meet him the next week but it was an appointment he could not keep.

A year to the day after his release, after the return of his political rights, which technically ended his period of house arrest, I paid him a visit at his invitation.

The intention was to test the country's new media rules for the Olympics - known by their number, order 477 - which said foreign journalists only needed to obtain prior consent of the individuals they wanted to interview.

Mr Zheng looked little changed despite three years in jail. After an hour-long interview, one of his relatives came running into the room and said: 'State security is here.'

The officer in a police car parked out front had tipped off his superiors.

I went out the back door as the lawyer prepared, once again, to face the authorities alone.