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China: Don’t Subject Activist to House Arrest

Hu Jia and His Family at Risk of New Restrictions After His Prison Release

(New York) - The Chinese government should not place the noted human rights activist Hu Jia and his family under house arrest or other extra-judicial deprivations of liberty after he is released from prison, Human Rights Watch said today. Hu Jia (胡佳)is scheduled to be released from Beijing Municipal Prison on June 26, 2011, after serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for "incitement to subvert state power."

Under his sentence, Hu will be deprived of his political rights for another year, including the right to vote and to give media interviews.

"Hu Jia should never have been imprisoned in the first place," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "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."

Hu was arrested in December 2007 after a long period of unlawful enforced confinement at his home. He had also been subjected to enforced disappearances by law enforcement authorities twice. He made a short video, "Prisoner of Freedom City" to document security agents' thuggish and unlawful treatment of him when he was confined to his home.

Hu was sentenced in April 2008 by Beijing People's Intermediary Court No.1 for "incitement to subvert state power" on the basis of a series of articles denouncing the human rights situation of the country ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Such charges are regularly used to criminalize criticism of the government, the Communist Party, or the one-party political system.

His trial fell short of international fair trial standards and was clearly motivated by the desire to silence a prominent human rights activist ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said. Hu received the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2008.

For much of Hu's imprisonment, his wife and fellow activist, Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕), has lived with the couple's young daughter under tight police monitoring and harassment. Police have carried out intense and intrusive surveillance of their apartment complex, unlawfully restricted their freedom of movement, obstructed journalists and foreign diplomats who tried to visit Zeng, and disrupted phone and internet communications.

In mid-June, Zeng told foreign media that police had informed her that Hu's release "won't happen in the regular way" and that she was "preparing in my mind for long-term house arrest." She also reported that their landlord had refused to renew their lease "under pressure."

"For Chinese human rights activists, prison is only one way of losing one's freedom," Richardson said. "House arrest, restrictions on movements, and enforced disappearances are often what awaits them upon release."

Hu has suffered serious complications from chronic hepatitis B, but prison authorities have consistently denied his applications for medical parole since July 2009, insisting he did not meet the criteria. Chinese regulations permit applications from medically eligible prisoners who have served one-third of their sentence.

Other high-profile activists and dissidents have completed prison terms and then been subjected, along with their families, to unlawful house arrest and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. They include:

  • Hada (哈达), an ethnic Mongolian activist who, like many Mongolians, goes by a single name, was scheduled for release from prison in December 2010, after serving 15 years on politicized charges of "separatism and espionage." Those charges were related to Hada's founding of the Southern Mongolian Democracy Alliance, a group that promoted Mongolian culture and civil rights in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The evidence against him included writings in which he advocated Mongol autonomy from Chinese central government rule.

    The government issued photographs of Hada, purportedly taken following his release. But he remains incommunicado, his whereabouts unknown, and he is believed to have been forcibly disappeared by government officials. Hada's wife, Xinna, and his son, Uiles, were reported to have been detained in December 2010 on charges of "illegal business practices" and "drug possession." They too are incommunicado, their whereabouts unknown.

  • Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), a blind lawyer who in June 2005 filed a class-action lawsuit accusing officials in Linyi, a city in Shandong province, of seeking to enforce restrictive population control laws. Local officials imprisoned Chen and his immediate family in their home and shut off all outside communication for seven months beginning in August 2005. On March 11, 2006, Yinan county police officers "disappeared" Chen, and officials acknowledged only three months later, on June 11, that he was formally detained in the Yinan County Detention Center. On June 21, the Yinan County People's Procuratorate formally arrested Chen on charges of damaging property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic. Later that year, he was found guilty and sentenced to four years and three months in prison.

    Since his release in September 2010, he and his wife, Yuan Weijing, and their daughter have been held captive at their home in rural Shandong province. Chen and his wife secretly filmed a video documenting their unlawful house arrest, which a nongovernmental organization released in February 2011. In the video, Chen says, "I have come out of a small jail and walked into a bigger jail." Foreign media reported in mid-June that Yuan had written in a letter that both she and her husband had been tortured by government officials and security officers as reprisal for the secret video and that their 5-year-old daughter had been barred from school as collective punishment against the family.

  • Zheng Enchong 郑恩, a Shanghai lawyer who defended local residents who had been illegally evicted. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2003 on baseless charges of violating China's opaque Law on Guarding State Secrets. Since his release in 2006, he and his wife have been illegally confined to their Shanghai home by plainclothes police. Zheng is barred from leaving his apartment, while his wife is allowed one daily supervised trip to buy food. Police have cut his home's internet access and his phone is frequently disconnected. 

"Disappearing or restricting government critics - and their family members - after an unwarranted prison term is piling one serious abuse on top of another," Richardson said. "The Chinese government only compounds its violations of human rights and further damages its record on respect for the rule of law in the eyes of all other nations."

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