Hu Jia: Six Months and Counting

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It is exactly six months ago today that dissident Hu Jia was sentenced to three years in jail. His case has received much internaional attention and there is even speculation that he could be in line to get a Nobel Peace Prize, as Austin wrote earlier here.

Sadly the reality is that even if he gets the prize, which will be announced in a week, it will make about as much difference to his situation as giving it to jailed Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi did: none whatsoever. Still, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the details of his case and treatment by the authorities, which are particularly egregious and symbolic of the way that Beijing deals with even the mildest of dissent. I reproduce the first few grafs of a news release by Human Rights watch on the subject:

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

(New York, October 2, 2008) – 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’s wife, Zeng Jinyan, has documented the decline in Hu’s health since his arrest in December on her blog. 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.

Th full release is here at the HRW website. Obviously, this is blocked by the Great Firewall but with free VPNs like Anchor Free’s Hotspot Shield (still downloadble in China here as of this writing) around that work perfectly (better even in my experience than those you have to pay for) there’s no problem getting to the site.