Earlier this evening eight police raided the home of prominent Chinese dissident Hu Jia, confiscated two computers, and told him to report to a police station for further questioning on Thursday, in a move that potentially presages a further crackdown towards rights activists in China.
A skinny firebrand, Hu made his name fighting for better treatment of AIDS patients. Like the better known international artist and provocateur Ai Weiwei, Hu made a point of using the law to fight the system, even if his adversaries didn't always operate legally. In a 2006 interview with Radio Free Asia, after describing being detained for 41 days, accused of nebulous crimes and warned that "more misfortune would come upon me if I continued to take part in those activities," Hu said:
I am going to sue the Beijing Public Security Bureau, because they have become more and more reckless in violating human rights, which not only has brought misfortune to my family, but also to many other families. In order to put restraint on them, to awaken them, and to make them repent, I must use the law as my weapon...
Arrested in 2007 and charged with the menacingly broad crime of "inciting subversion of state power," Hu spent three years in prison, before being released in June of 2011, four days after Ai emerged from his 81 day detention. Ai kept agitating, in November offering supporters the chance to help pay a tax bill from the government that he claimed was politically motivated. Hu remained active on Twitter, but mostly kept quiet.
Beijing remains in the thralls of what one journalist called The Big Chill, a crackdown on activists, human rights lawyers, and bloggers. While things have been relatively quiet over the past few months, Hu's treatment might be the start of a new wave of seasonal arrests and detentions related to the political transition slated for later this year, when Xi Jinping, barring any major changes, will be announced as the new Chairman of the Communist Party. Like the Olympics were China's coming out party, the 2012 National Congress in China is Xi’s debut; he would prefer that Hu and others didn’t spoil it with their simmering voices of discontent.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
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