One of the mainland's most high-profile dissidents, Hu Jia , vowed upon his release from jail yesterday that he would continue his activism, apparently unfettered by the heavy surveillance he was immediately placed under.
His home and neighbourhood on the eastern outskirts of Beijing was yesterday heavily guarded by police, confirming his family's worst fears that he is not a free man.
Hu (above), 37, who was jailed for 31/2 years for 'inciting subversion of state sovereignty' by posting articles on rights abuses online and giving interviews to foreign reporters, returned home safely yesterday, his wife Zeng Jinyan said. '[We're] fine at home,' she wrote in an e-mail to the South China Morning Post, confirming an online message she posted earlier.
'Hu Jia arrived home at 2.30am. [We're] safe and very happy,' she said on Twitter. Hu, who is barred from accepting media interviews under conditions of his sentence, talked briefly to TV reporters on the phone. Asked by Now TV whether he would continue his rights activities, he replied: 'Of course.'
Later, he told Cable TV about his dilemma over how to remain loyal to his mission while not worrying his parents. 'It's sometimes difficult to be both pious and loyal ... [I mean] loyal to morality, loyal to citizen's rights, loyal to conscience,' Hu said.
'My parents have told me: live an ordinary life, don't clash with the regime, because this regime is very cruel and it arbitrarily violates citizens' dignity. But I can only tell them I'll be careful.'
Hu's parents, graduates of elite universities, were sent to labour in the countryside after being castigated as 'rightists' in 1957 along with other intellectuals who had criticised the government, he said in an interview in 2007 before he was jailed.
Hu, who suffers from chronic hepatitis B, also told Now TV his illness had not improved in prison and he needed medical treatment.
From the early hours yesterday, police blocked the only road leading to the family's residential compound about one kilometre from their flat in an apparent attempt to keep journalists and supporters at a distance.
Scores of uniformed police, security guards and several police vehicles were stationed on the road. People trying to get into the compound were subject to identity checks. Hu's release came amid the harshest government crackdown on dissent in years. Fearing revolts similar to those in the Arab world could spread to the mainland, authorities have detained more than 130 activists, lawyers and a blogger since February, Amnesty International says. Most campaigners have been reduced to uncharacteristic silence after their release.
Hu's wife Zeng told the Post this month that although Hu was mentally prepared for being 'put in a big prison after his release from the small prison', he was more worried the family would not be reunited for some time. Not wanting their three-year-old to live with them under house arrest, Zeng had put her into the care of relatives outside Beijing. 'She is so little I want her to live a carefree life for as long as possible and not have to bump into policemen all the time,' Zeng said.
Human Rights Watch's senior researcher Nicholas Bequelin said: 'Hu is freer but not free. The heavy police presence points to an admission by the authorities that this is an embarrassing case ... and they know what they're doing is wrong.'
Wan Yanhai, the exiled Aids activist who introduced Hu to the cause, said it would not be easy to keep Hu quiet. 'The key is whether the government has enough wisdom to reconcile with him and treat him as a partner in humanitarian work.'