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China 26 February 2008

Government urged to heed appeals for release of Hu Jia, who begins third month in detention

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the release of human rights activist Hu Jia, who will tomorrow begin his third month of detention by the Beijing public security bureau on a charge of inciting subversion of state authority, while his wife, Zeng Jinyan, and their baby girl, now three and a half months old, continue to be closely watched by the political police.

"Hu Jia’s arrest and indictment just a few months before the start of the Beijing Olympic Games was a blatant provocation that prompted a series of protests in China and abroad", the press freedom organisation said.

"The Beijing authorities continue for the time being to turn a deaf ear to the calls for his release, but we hope the government will be forced to intercede on his behalf, as it already did for Ching Cheong and Yu Huafeng", Reporters Without Borders added. "The release of all journalists and cyber-dissidents before the start of the Games is one of our demands".

More than one thousand Internet users have already signed the petition for Hu’s release on the Reporters Without Borders website:

Hu’s lawyer and family were recently able to visit him at the public security detention centre where he is being held in Beijing. Despite rumours that he could be freed soon, his friends and relatives say there is no indication that the authorities have decided not to try him.

After being allowed to use her mobile phone again, his wife, Zeng Jinyan, was interviewed by Radio Free Asia on 21 February. She said she was surprised when she was finally allowed to visit her husband in prison on 17 February. Teng Biao, a lawyer and friend of the couple, said the international support for Hu Jia and his family has had an impact on the Chinese authorities, apparently persuading to relax the measures isolating them from the outside world.

Police are still stationed at the entrance to the couple’s apartment building, surveillance cameras have been installed and a permanent police surveillance unit has been installed in an apartment above theirs. Zeng’s phone is being tapped and she said she was nervous about giving interviews, especially to foreign news media. She explained that the police could refuse to let her leave the apartment or see Hu Jia again.

When a foreign reporter managed to visit the apartment last week, Zeng confirmed that she was very worried about Hu and his health, which is fragile.

Hu’s lawyer, Li Fangping, said on 21 February that he was baffled by the way the case against his client was being conducted. "I think we may have to wait until the verdict in order to have access to the documents and evidence in the case file", he said.

Several friends of the couple are also still under police surveillance. Teng Biao’s passport has been confiscated since 28 January and he has been advised not to try to visit Zeng.

On 27 December, Hu Jia was at home with Zeng and their then six-week-old daughter when about 20 policemen burst in at around 3 p.m., disconnected their Internet connection and phone lines and then left with Hu. Other policemen, who stayed in the apartment to prevent from Zeng alerting their friends about his arrest, showed her a warrant that said he was charged with "inciting subversion of state authority".

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