Chinese police warn human rights activist over internet comments

 Published: 1/12/2012 12:22:05 PM GMT
Original Cached
Chinese police warn human rights activist over internet comments

A prominent Chinese human rights activist released from prison last year says police have seized two of his computers and warned him to tone down his activism and online comments or face detention.

Hu Jia was questioned by police for about seven hours on Thursday, a day after Yu Jie, a well-known dissident writer who has frequently been threatened with jail for his writing, left China for the United States, possibly for good.

China has become increasingly diligent about quashing critical voices, apparently fearful that they could spark protests like those that unseated autocrats in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya last year. The crackdown has alarmed activists and outspoken intellectuals, with some resorting to exile.

Hu said his interrogators criticised him for his frequent comments on Twitter, but were most concerned about a letter he wrote last month to the Nobel peace prize committee appealing for greater attention to the plight of the jailed peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest for more than a year.

"It was a very official warning," Hu said. He said his and his wife's computers had been taken from his home on Wednesday night by police and were yet to be returned.

A major figure in China's dissident community, Hu, 38, last year completed a three-and-a-half-year sentence for inciting subversion. He was awarded the European parliament's top human rights award, the €50,000 Sakharov prize.

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

Kine said Chinese rights activists were likely to face heightened police surveillance, harassment and detention in the runup 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 neutralise any potential public challenges to its grip on power," Kine said in an email.

Meanwhile, a friend of the well-known author Yu said he had left China on Wednesday after planning his exit for half a year, though it was not clear if the move was permanent.

Shen Quan, the pastor of an underground Beijing church where Yu worshipped, said Yu had sold his home in Beijing recently.

"We all know sometimes he was prevented from leaving his house and was taken away during sensitive periods," Shen said.

Chinese dissidents are often put under house arrest or detained by authorities before important political meetings and around sensitive dates such as the anniversary of the military crackdown on democracy protesters on 4 June 1989.

Yu was said to have arrived in Washington DC on Wednesday night with his wife and young son.

Yu helped found the Independent Pen Centre 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 the author of China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao, a critical appraisal of China's premier that was published in Hong Kong in 2010 despite police threats that he could be put in prison.

In a 2010 interview with the Associated Press, Yu said writers in China "live with a sword that could fall on our heads at any moment".

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said he was unaware of Yu and reports of his departure.

"The Chinese population is so large I don't know every one of them," Liu said. "I don't know this person and I don't know how many people regard him as a famous writer."


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