Activist Hu Jia releases
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Activist Hu Jia releases

One of China's most prominent prisoners of conscience, Hu Jia, was freed on Sunday after serving more than three years for subversion -- the latest in a series of high-profile dissident releases.

world Updated: Jun 26, 2011 08:50 IST

One of China's most prominent prisoners of conscience, Hu Jia, was freed on Sunday after serving more than three years for subversion -- the latest in a series of high-profile dissident releases.

The human rights campaigner returned to his home outside Beijing early on Sunday morning, his wife and fellow activist Zeng Jinyan said in a brief posting on her Twitter account.

"On a sleepless night, Hu Jia arrived home at 2:30 am. Peaceful, very happy. Need to rest for awhile. Thanks to you all," she said.

Hu, 37, was jailed in April 2008, just months before the Beijing Olympics, after angering the ruling Communist Party through his years of bold campaigning for civil rights, the environment, and AIDS sufferers.

He is the second prominent government critic to be released in a matter of days after outspoken artist Ai Weiwei returned to his home in Beijing last week after nearly three months in police custody amid a government rights crackdown.

However, Hu will likely face strict curbs on his activities such as those applied to Ai and a range of other activists and rights lawyers who have apparently been ordered to keep quiet as a condition of their release.

Ai's detention had sparked an international outcry and his recent release has been widely seen as an attempt by China to defuse criticism during a visit by Premier Wen Jiabao to Europe now under way.

Restrictions likely to be placed on Hu, who had completed his jail term, will mean "he will not be able to meet with the media," Zeng said on Twitter last week.

"During this time, he must treat his cirrhosis and take care of his family," she had said.

Hu suffers from cirrhosis of the liver and Zeng has said the ailment has worsened during his time in jail.

During much of his prison term, she complained bitterly on her blog that he was receiving inadequate medical attention for the condition, but has been more subdued in her comments in recent months, indicating she was under pressure.

Hu and Zeng have a young daughter.

It was not immediately clear exactly what sort of restrictions Hu may face.

Zeng gave no further information in Sunday's tweet and attempts to reach her by phone at the couple's home in the Bobo Freedom Village apartment complex were unsuccessful.

Access to their apartment building was blocked on Sunday.

About 20 police and other security personnel prevented journalists from approaching the area by car. AFP reporters who entered the area on foot were blocked by at least 20 men wearing the red armband of the local neighbourhood committee.

Members of such committees are often drafted into security duties by the government.

Hu got his start as an activist in efforts to highlight discrimination against Chinese HIV/AIDS sufferers and environmental degradation but later spoke out on behalf of a wide range of victims of government abuses.

As a result, he and Zeng have suffered repeated detentions or lengthy periods of house arrest that they have criticised as unlawful.

They made a short documentary, available on the Internet, detailing one of these detentions from 2006-2007 called "Prisoners of Freedom City."

Regularly tipped as a potential candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, Hu has won overseas human rights awards from bodies such as the European Parliament.

"China has been a dictatorship throughout its entire history," Hu told AFP in a 2007 interview.

"Now... I believe that we have a chance to bring democracy to this country for the first time in 5,000 years."

He was taken into custody in December 2007 amid a previous crackdown on government critics ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Zeng said police told her Hu was not likely to enjoy a "normal" life after his release, remarks she interpreted to mean confinement to his home like some other recently released dissidents.

New York-based activist group Human Rights Watch on Friday urged the Chinese government not to subject Hu and his family to "house arrest or other extrajudicial deprivations of liberty."

The artist Ai's detention in April came during a major government crackdown on dissent launched in February in an apparent bid to squelch any possible Chinese version of the "Arab Spring" uprisings in the Middle East.

Normally outspoken recent detainees such as Ai have, with few exceptions, uncharacteristically refused comment on how they were treated after their release.

Activists say this indicates a systematic new government strategy to silence dissenters, possibly through threats against them or their families.

First Published: Jun 26, 2011 08:46 IST