Future murky for China dissident freed from prison

AP News
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Posted: Jun 10, 2011 5:49 AM
Future murky for China dissident freed from prison

An activist who criticized China response to a 2008 earthquake was released from prison Friday but says he's unsure if he'll be kept under house arrest as other freed activists have been.

Huang Qi, 48, said officials took away his notebooks and warned him not to become involved with other dissidents or leave his home too often. He was released from a prison in Dazhu city and said eight men in two police vans escorted him to his hometown of Neijiang, both in China's southwestern province of Sichuan.

His release comes after some dissidents, such as blind activist Chen Guangcheng who was released in September, have been kept under strict house arrest since their jail terms ended.

The actions raise worries also about what will happen to Hu Jia, known for his activism with AIDS patients and orphans, when he is expected to be released June 26 after serving a 3-1/2 year term for sedition.

Huang criticized the government's response to the Sichuan earthquake that killed nearly 90,000 people and was convicted of illegally possessing state secrets _ an ill-defined charge often used by Communist leaders to clamp down on dissent and imprison activists.

Huang said in an interview with The Associated Press that despite his release he feels a sense of uncertainty.

"In jail, I felt a sense of calm in some ways because I knew what was in store for me the next day, but now anything could happen" said Huang. "Still, I'm very happy to see my family and so many of my friends who came to meet me today."

Earlier this decade, Huang served a five-year prison sentence for subversion charges linked to politically sensitive articles posted online. Since his release in 2005, he has supported a wide range of causes from aiding families of those killed in the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to publicizing the complaints of farmers involved in land disputes with authorities.

Huang said he plans to move to Chengdu next week, but is unsure if he will be placed under house arrest once he begins working on human rights issues again.

"There's always a risk in what we do, but it is our responsibility and duty to give a voice to those in need," he said.

Huang's release comes amid a clampdown in China. Hundreds of lawyers, activists and other intellectuals have been questioned, detained, confined to their homes or simply disappeared in recent months in the wake of online appeals calling for peaceful protests across the country.

Though no protests took place, the calls spooked the Chinese government into launching one of its broadest campaigns of repression in years to prevent unrest like what has occurred in the Middle East and North Africa.

The crackdown has also affected relatives of high-profile activists such as Hu. His wife Zeng Jinyan said she is being forced to move from her house in Shenzhen in southern China.

She had moved there in April to ease the political pressure on her in Beijing, but she said her landlord has said he cannot handle the pressure from authorities and asked her to move.

Zeng said she is unsure what will happen to her husband. "I will go to Beijing to meet him when he is released, regardless of what the authorities say, but after that...who knows what will happen," she said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Chen Guangcheng and his wife have been kept under an unofficial house arrest in their village in eastern China since he was released last fall, and reporters trying to visit them have been kept away by thugs who patrol the village.

He angered authorities after documenting forced late-term abortions and sterilizations and other abuses in his rural community, but was sentenced for instigating an attack on government offices and organizing a group of people to disrupt traffic, charges his supporters say were fabricated.