One of China’s most high-profile dissidents, Hu Jia, was released from jail early Sunday morning after he completed a three-and-a-half-year sentence on subversion charges, his wife said.
His wife, Zeng Jinyan, said that Hu had returned to his Beijing home, but was not ready to speak in public.
"On a sleepless night, Hu Jia arrived at home at 2:30 a.m.—safe and very happy," Zeng, also an activist, wrote on her Twitter account. "[He] needs to rest for some time."
The 37-year-old AIDS, human rights, and environmental activist Hu was convicted in 2008 for "inciting subversion of state power" for criticizing human rights abuses in China prior to the Beijing Olympics. He was seen by some supporters as a potential recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize before it was awarded to another jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo.
Hu’s long-scheduled release, which came while Chinese Party Secretary of the State Council Wen Jiabao was on a state visit to Hungary, Britain, and Germany, followed prominent Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s sudden release on Wednesday as well as the release of four of Ai’s associates on Saturday.
Despite Hu’s release, his wife and other supporters have voiced concern that Chinese authorities might also put him under informal house arrest. Zeng had already sent their 3-year-old daughter to relatives, not wanting her to be with them if a house arrest were to occur.
Even under official conditions, Hu is not free. In addition to his jail sentence, Hu is subjected to one year of a deprivation of political rights upon his release, which includes the right to vote and have contact with the media.
"During this year, [he] will most likely focus on receiving treatments for his liver cirrhosis and taking care of his parents and daughter, in case he gets arrested again," Zeng tweeted.
The European Union, which awarded Hu the EU’s top human rights award—the Sakharov Prize—in December 2008, is equally cautious over Hu’s release.
"Obviously we welcome the fact Hu has been released, said Michael Mann, spokesperson for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, according to BBC News. "But it is important to keep an eye on how he is treated from here on in. We hope Hu is given full rights."
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Hu and his family should not be placed under house arrest or other "extra-judicial deprivations of liberty" following his release.
"Hu Jia should never have been imprisoned in the first place," said HRW’s Asia Advocacy Director Sophie Richardson in a statement. "If that injustice is compounded by another form of detention, it will show just how shallow the Chinese government’s ‘rule of law’ commitments are."
For much of Hu’s imprisonment, his wife and daughter had been living under tight police monitoring and harassment. Police have conducted "intense and intrusive" surveillance of their Beijing apartment complex, unlawfully restricted their freedom of movement, prevented journalists and foreign diplomats from visiting Zeng, and disrupted phone and Internet communications, according to the HRW.
Hu came down with cirrhosis of the liver during a previous jail sentence and had been trying to apply for medical parole since July 2009. Prison authorities consistently denied his applications, insisting that he did not meet the criteria.
The Chinese regime has taken steps to keep tight control. In the days leading up to Hu’s release, police talked with several Beijing dissidents, ordering them not to meet with Hu once he was out of jail.
One dissident, Cha Jianguo, told Chinese Human Rights Defenders that in addition to the talk, police have been patrolling the downstairs of his apartment complex, requiring him to sign in and sign out with the police.
The Chinese Communist Party has cracked down on dissidents since February, fearing that the popular Arab Spring uprisings could also inspire further challenges to its one-party rule.Many recently freed dissidents have apparently been ordered by Chinese authorities to stay quiet after their release. Ai, for example, asked the media to "please understand" his silence following his two-and-a-half-month detainment.
"I’m sorry I can’t [talk]. I’m on probation," Ai, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, told NTD Television in English.