Today, the Chinese authorities freed a prominent dissident, Hu Jia, a leading, and highly vocal, advocate for democratic rights, religious freedom and self-determination for Tibet. The BBC reports that his wife, Zeng Jingyan, says he has been reunited with his family in Beijing after serving three and a half years for “inciting subversion”; he was to be released on Sunday.
Hu’s release follows that of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was released on bail last Wednesday. Hu has been awarded European Union’s top human rights award, the Sakharov prize, and is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He has also been an advocate for rural AIDS sufferers and for children with AIDS in China, and for . In 2008, Hu was imprisoned on charges related to five articles he had written and interviews with journalists, in which he criticized Chinese authorities. Before the 2008 Olympics were held in Beijing, Hu published an open letter to the Chinese government entitled “The Real China and the Olympics” and called for an end to human rights abuses in the country. In 2007, he had been placed under house arrest for a documentary that he and his wife had made about their life about “their experiences of living under constant police surveillance.”
According to the BBC, Ai Weiwei’s driver, accountant, assistant and a designer have also been freed. However, he is not allowed to speak the media, cannot leave Beijing without permission and unable to use his Twitter account at least for the next year. Ai’s last tweet was on April 3, the day he was detained by Chinese authorities while on his way to board a flight to Hong Kong from Beijing; he had been an active presence on the microblogging site, with over 89,000 followers and over 60,000 tweets. Formal charges have yet to be brought against the 54-year-old artist and activist. The Chinese authorities say that he has admitted to tax evasion and said he has promised to pay back the money, says the BBC.
In other words, Ai is free, but in a highly restricted way.
The same seems to be the same for Hu, too. His wife has said that he cannot yet speak to the media as that “might cause problems.”
Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has arrived in the UK for a five-day state visit that began in Hungary and will end in Germany. As the Guardian reports, while the debt crisis will be high on the agenda — China now holds the world’s largest foreign exchange holdings and has bought more European bonds — human rights will definitely be under discussion:
China’s decision to release the dissident artist Ai Weiwei on bail has taken one contentious case off the agenda, but the UK is still expected to raise human rights issues: the question will be whether it does so publicly or privately, and how strongly it does so.
A video in the Guardian shows Chinese citizens reacting with caution to Ai’s release; one person says that maintaining “national unity” is of first important, so “if Ai’s remarks really endangered the unity of the country, then the judicial system has the right to subject him to judicial punishment.” Another person interviewed says that she hopes the government can be more “open and tolerant” when people like Ai make such “extreme” remarks.
How free can China be or rather, how free do Chinese citizens wish to be?
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