Chinese police question human rights activist

 Published: 1/12/2012 7:19:02 AM GMT
AP Original Cached

BEIJING – A prominent Chinese human rights activist released from prison last year said Thursday that he had been summoned by police for questioning after they searched his home and removed two computers.

Hu Jia, speaking by telephone from a Beijing police station, said he was unable to give details about the situation because he was still being questioned.

The interrogation comes after Hu used his Twitter account to complain about the denial of visitors to jailed rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Hu also appealed online to authorities holding Gao to let his family see him.

Hu said he was summoned Thursday morning after police searched his home and took his and his wife's computers Wednesday night.

A major figure in China's dissident community, Hu, 38, advocated a broad range of civil liberties before he was imprisoned in 2008. He was released last year after serving a 3 1/2-year sentence for sedition, a charge stemming from police accusations that he planned to work with foreigners to disturb the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In late 2008, Hu won the European Parliament's top human rights award, the 50,000-euro ($72,000) Sakharov Prize.

Hu initially was an advocate for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients. But he expanded his efforts after the government gave little ground and he began to see the country's problems as rooted in authorities' lack of respect for human rights.

Phelim Kine, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the raid on Hu's house was linked to government anxiety over potential unrest ahead of a coming leadership transition.

Kine said Chinese rights activists were likely to face "heightened police surveillance, harassment and detention" in the run-up to the Communist Party congress that will inaugurate new leaders in the second half of the year.

"Human, electronic and Internet surveillance will only tighten this year as the Chinese government seeks to identify, target and neutralize any potential public challenges to its grip on power," Kine said in an email.

Gao, an outspoken rights lawyer, is jailed in China's remote Xinjiang region after being secretly held by Chinese security agents. Some of his relatives were told this week that he is undergoing a three-month "education period" and will be denied visitors for at least that much time, according to his wife.

Meanwhile, friends of dissident Chinese writer Yu Jie said on their microblogs that the author and his family had emigrated to the United States. A Voice of America video report posted online showed the well-known author arriving in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night with his wife and young son.

Yu helped found the Independent PEN Center in China, which fights for freedom of expression, and is a vocal Christian who has angered authorities by outspokenly advocating religious freedom. He is also author of "China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao," an unusually critical appraisal of China's premier that was published in Hong Kong in 2010 despite police threats that he could be put in prison.

Yu's friend and the head of an underground church in south China's Chengdu, Wang Yi, said on his Sina microblog that Yu texted him Wednesday to say he was leaving China. Another friend, Beijing law professor Xiao Han, posted a similar account. Xiao said Yu had sold his home in China and might not be back for years.


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