Activist's wife under scrutiny

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am


The wife of jailed activist Hu Jia has been placed under surveillance just days before her husband is scheduled to be freed, confirming her fears that their freedom may be severely curtailed when he is released.

Zeng Jinyan, who temporarily moved to Shenzhen two months ago with their three-year-old daughter to avoid harassment in Beijing, returned to the capital alone last Sunday for a final prison visit before Hu's release on Sunday.

But friends have been unable to reach her since her arrival on Sunday, evening, prompting speculation that she may have been taken into custody. However, yesterday she said she was just taken home by the authorities.

Messages sent from her Twitter account yesterday afternoon said: 'Eight people picked me up at the cabin door yesterday and they also picked up my luggage ... I guess this will be the default state of our lives from now on. I'll read and rest more.'

In a later message, she said she had come home after visiting Hu in prison: 'I told Hu Jia to save himself for the long road ahead.'

She said she would be busy with household chores and visiting her in-laws in the next few days and could not talk to the media.

Her mobile phone remained switched off yesterday and her home phone was permanently engaged.

Hu is one of China's most high-profile rights campaigners, known for his activism in civil rights, environmental protection and the country's marginalised Aids patients. He was arrested in December 2007, when his daughter was just one month old, and jailed for three-and-a-half years on subversion charges four months later.

Zeng had repeatedly voiced fears that she and Hu will be held under house arrest and cut off from the outside world after his release, like other prominent activists.

Family friend Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist, has been confined to his home with his wife and five-year-old daughter, and held incommunicado since his release in September. Beijing police did not respond to inquiries yesterday.

Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the mainland authorities were taking measures to ensure that Hu and his wife could not speak to the media after his release.

'There is no question about the fact that she is under pressure because the authorities want to ensure that they remain silent after Hu Jia's release ... no doubt, Zeng Jinyan has been threatened with retribution if they speak to the media,' Bequelin said.

Hu, 37, and Zeng, 27, endured years of harassment before Hu was jailed. They were often followed by security agents and intermittently put under residential surveillance. Hu was once held by police at an undisclosed location for six weeks in 2006, and Zeng and their daughter were often watched by security agents in Beijing.

Zeng said she did not want their daughter to live under house arrest with them in Beijing and had to place her in the care of her relatives.