I am a free man, my guards are not
Mainland activist Hu Jia says he used to be filled with vengeful thoughts when police came knocking on his door, followed him everywhere or held him in extrajudicial detention.
After 31/2 years in prison, Hu, one of the mainland's most high-profile dissidents, says his old hatred for them has gone.
The authorities jailed him on a charge of 'inciting subversion of state sovereignty' for his online posts concerning human rights abuses.
The 37-year-old Buddhist and activist was released on Sunday but is still guarded by dozens of security men who block visitors from going near his home on the outskirts of Beijing.
A convoy of cars follows him and his wife wherever they go. There are even security people outside his parents' home, he said. 'This is what I had expected - out of a small prison into a big prison,' he said on the phone this week.
Before he was jailed, he said, he used to exchange sharp words with policemen who harassed him, and heated rows sometimes turned violent. 'But now I won't say that sort of thing,' he said. 'My hatred in the past has turned into pity ... those people who make us live in hell, do you think they live in paradise?
'I'm a free person but they are not free. At least I have freedom in thought and the freedom not to do bad things, but they don't.'
Hu said he was treated with respect by police and prison guards while in jail - most of the time. After one argument with a policeman, he was held in solitary confinement for nine days, handcuffed and shackled. 'Those were things I only saw in movies before,' he said. 'But it happened to me again a dozen times because when I went to the hospital I had to wear them ... and I felt deeply humiliated because people would look at you and think: 'Are you a murderer?''
Hu, who has campaigned for Tibetan antelopes, Aids patients in rural villages and fellow activists in detention, said he spent about 21/2 years studying law in prison and spoke about his vision for the country with prison police.
'I told them the charge 'inciting subversion' is an infringement of people's freedom of speech ... I told them we must have this law abolished and we cannot allow it to be a sword of Damocles forever dangling over everyone's head,' he said, raising his voice.
'They thought I was exaggerating but, you know, the calls for freedom of speech are getting louder, and, when I see this, I know I'm not alone.'
His passion for democracy, freedom and human rights appears undiminished, although he says he will now take a less confrontational approach for the sake of his three-year-old child, his wife and his parents.
Hu said that he wants to push for the rule of law rather than just tackle individual cases where people's rights have been abused. 'We have to get down to the root cause,' he said.
He added: 'If the charge 'inciting subversion of sovereignty' is never scrapped, police will carry on arresting government critics.'
Hu's release came amid the harshest government crackdown on dissent in years. Fearing that revolts similar to those in the Arab world could spread to the mainland, the authorities have detained more than 130 activists and lawyers since February, Amnesty International says.
Hu said it was a sign of the authorities' weakness. 'We have to let them know that if they carry on like this, there will be no future. They should know they are only digging their own grave through [these] measures.'
Hu's sentence included a year of deprivation of political rights on his release. He emphasised his conversations with reporters were not interviews but discussions among friends.
He believed a moment of truth and reconciliation would come, as in South Africa, adding: 'The revenge mentality should end - we need rationality and the rule of law. Our duty is to ensure history is [correctly] remembered'