Linked with Hu Jia – China.
Published on The Independent/WORLD, April 4, 2008.
As far as Hu Jia was concerned, the door to his apartment was always open to fellow Chinese who shared his desire for greater freedom, foreign friends, or activists with issues to discuss.
But it was always a question of when, not if, the Communist Party would lock up Mr Hu, China’s most famous dissident, who has been under house arrest for many months, guarded by state security officers.
Yesterday Mr Hu, 34, was transformed into one of the world’s most famous human rights defenders as China moved to stifle dissent before the Olympic Games in Beijing. He was jailed by a Beijing court for three and a half years for “inciting to subvert state power” through a series of articles about freedom and for his constant dialogue with foreign journalists.
Mr Hu would not have been surprised by the jail sentence. One of the last things he said to me defiantly after I interviewed him while he was under house arrest last year was: “I’m ready that the next step after house arrest will be jail” …
… The official news agency Xinhua said Mr Hu had confessed to his crimes and accepted his punishment, hence the light sentence. His legal team said he had conceded to “excesses”.
“Mr Hu spread malicious rumours, and committed libel in an attempt to subvert the state’s political power and socialist system,” the court said, according to Xinhua.
Mr Hu’s profile has been high for a long time and this is not the kind of case that will be brushed easily aside, particularly when allied to the condemnation of China’s crackdown on violent protests in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas last month.
The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, raised Mr Hu’s case when she visited Beijing earlier this year, and the US embassy in Beijing issued a statement about his sentencing, saying: “In this Olympic year, we urge China to seize the opportunity to put its best face forward and take steps to improve its record on human rights and religious freedom.” The European Union and other Western governments, Germany in particular, have also pressed China on the matter.
Mr Hu is unlikely to appeal against the sentence. Now his supporters in Beijing and elsewhere are waiting to see when he will be allowed to come back to Bobo Freedom City again to welcome people to his home … (full text).