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Human Rights Watch calls for release of jailed rights activist, expresses concern for his health

(HRW/IFEX) - The following is a Human Rights Watch press release:

China: Release Jailed Rights Activist Hu Jia
Exonerate or Grant Medical Parole to Olympics Dissident

(New York) - The Chinese government should immediately exonerate or grant medical parole to imprisoned human rights activist Hu Jia, Human Rights Watch said just ahead of the sixth-month anniversary of his flawed conviction. Human Rights Watch also called on the government to cease the harassment and surveillance of Hu's wife Zeng Jinyan and infant daughter Qianci.

A leading HIV/AIDS advocate, Hu Jia became an outspoken critic of human rights abuses related to the preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He was sentenced to a three-and-a-half-year prison term on April 3, 2008, for "inciting subversion against the state." Authorities have limited his access to his lawyer, thus violating Hu's fundamental rights and resulting in proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards. He suffers from liver cirrhosis linked to chronic hepatitis B infection.

"Hu Jia was incarcerated for doing nothing more than exercising rights expressly guaranteed by China's constitution," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "If the government won't exonerate Hu, it should at least release him to get proper medical care."

Hu, a long-time activist who originally focused on violations of the rights of Chinese citizens infected with HIV/AIDS, was formally arrested on January 30, 2008. He was charged with "incitement to subvert state power," which criminalizes criticism of the government and the Communist Party of China. Hu's criticisms included a September 2007 letter written with Teng Biao, a fellow human rights activist and leading civil rights lawyer, entitled "The Real China and the Olympics" ( http://hrw.org/pub/2008/asia/teng_biao080220.pdf ). The letter detailed specific and wide-ranging violations of human rights by the government, and called on the international community to hold Beijing to the promises it made when bidding to host the Olympic Games, including improving human rights.

Human Rights Watch said that Hu's arrest and conviction was part of a systematic crackdown on Chinese citizens critical of human rights abuses linked to the preparations for the 2008 Beijing Games. Other activists targeted by the Chinese government include Yang Chunlin, a property rights activist detained in July 2007 for his involvement in a petition, "We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics," signed by farmers protesting land seizures; Ye Guozhou, serving a four-year prison sentence for organizing protests against Olympics-related forced evictions; and Wang Ling, sentenced to 15 months of "re-education" in November 2007 for opposing demolition of her property for an Olympics-related project.

Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, has documented the decline in Hu's health since his arrest in December on her blog ( http://zengjinyan.spaces.live.com ). But, despite a 2006 diagnosis by Beijing's Ditan Hospital of "acute liver cirrhosis," the Chinese government in June 2008 rejected Zeng's April 2008 application for Hu's medical parole. Authorities told Zeng that Hu is not "critically ill," and that any such applications can only be filed after he has served one-third of his sentence. On July 25, 2008, Zeng wrote that "[Hu's] eyesight had declined greatly in his time at the detention centre. . . . [He] also said that because his right hand was handcuffed so tightly, it was digging into his flesh, and leaving marks." On September 16, 2008, a national security officer told Zeng that medical parole for Hu was impossible because he had been "disobedient" and refused to be "quiet," thus violating prison rules.

On September 8, 2008, Zeng also noted in a blog entry that prison authorities were confiscating letters that Hu had written and that they were refusing to allow Zeng and other relatives to visit Hu in line with prison regulations. Zeng said that police had told her they were linking an improvement in Hu's prison conditions with an end to his activism for better conditions inside the prison. "He had put forward suggestions about how to improve the prison, and he wouldn't drop the issue of human rights, thus making things difficult for the prison's staff and management," Zeng wrote in her blog.

Zeng has been under house arrest in Beijing since May 18, 2007, and continues to be the target of police surveillance along with her 10-month-old daughter Qianci. House arrest without charge is an extrajudicial punishment that has no legal basis in either Chinese or international law. Beijing police, who closely monitor Zeng's activities and restrict her movement outside her apartment, escorted her and her daughter from their home on August 7, 2008, the day before the start of the Beijing Olympics, and kept her incommunicado in the coastal city of Dalian until August 23, the day before the end of the Beijing Games. "For 16 days, I knew nothing of what was going on in the world," Zeng wrote in her blog. "Home remains the same - there are still plainclothes police officers in the courtyard and at all the exits."

"The authorities' relentless harassment of Zeng Jinyan and her young daughter not only violates their basic rights, but is essentially collective punishment for Hu Jia's activities," said Richardson. "Is this Beijing's definition of the 'rule of law?'"

For more information on Hu Jia, please see the following:
- Hu Jia's and Teng Biao's letter, "The Real China and the Olympics," at: http://hrw.org/pub/2008/asia/teng_biao080220.pdf

- February 2008 Human Rights Watch news release, "China: Hu Jia's Fate a Test of Beijing's Human Rights Stance," at: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/02/26/china18152.htm

- Petition on behalf of Hu Jia, at: http://china.hrw.org/press/other_news/petition_on_behalf_of_hu_jia

- May 2007 Human Rights Watch news release, "China: Activist Couple Accused of Endangering State Security," at: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/21/china15979.htm

Updates the Hu Jia case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93659

FFI on the harassment of his wife Zeng Jinyan, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96133

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