COMMENTARY: Hu Jia - "Even at school I was always the one who defended girls who were teased or bullied."
By Sami Sillanpää in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
It was just over four years ago that I first met the 34-year-old Chinese dissident Hu Jia, who was sentenced last week to three and a half years in prison on charges of "inciting the subversion of state power and the socialist system", arising out of interviews he gave to the foreign media and political articles he wrote and published on the Internet.
I learnt to know an intelligent, brave, and idealistic young man who was prepared to sacrifice himself on behalf of democracy in China.
Hu awakened in many the hope of political change in China. His fate and his sentence comes as no surprise, but it is a disappointment.
Not even in an Olympic year, with the world looking on intently, has the Chinese Communist Party been able to resist its old ways, but it has used its nebulous laws and decrees to crush another dissident.
Hu Jia grew up in a rightist family, and back in the days of Mao Zedong's purges, Hu's father was subjected to "re-education through labour" in prisons and camps around the Chinese countryside.
Hu himself believed he was born to fight for justice.
"I can't stand injustice. Even at school I was always the one who defended girls who were teased or bullied."
I followed the lives of Hu Jia and his wife Zeng Jinyan intensively for more than a year for an article originally published in Helsingin Sanomat's monthly supplement [the translated article in its entirety is linked below].
Every moment, Hu was under the surveillance of the state security apparatus, plain-clothes police officers outside his apartment around the clock.
On one occasion, agents snatched him with a hood over his head and held him for weeks as a prisoner in an unknown location.
For most of the year, Hu was a prisoner in his apartment home. The police officers outside would not let him leave, nor would they allow visitors in.
Hu Jia wanted the best for China. He believed that democratisation, free media, and an independent judiciary were essential ingredients for the development of the society.
"Only then can China truly become a great power."
Alongside his activism, Hu Jia tried to live the normal life of a young man.
He went to pray in a Buddhist temple, he watched episodes of Friends at home on video, he dated and eventually married the young and attractive Zeng Jinyan.
Hu told me that he and his wife had had differences over starting a family.
For Hu, the struggle for democracy was paramount. And he fretted that the child would be without a father if and when the government chooses to strike.
Hu's fears became reality. Zeng gave birth to a baby girl last November. Just over a month later, Hu was arrested.
If the sentence passed remains in force, he will presumably next see his daughter on June 26th, 2011.
Zeng and the baby have not been sentenced for any crime. And yet they are prisoners in their own home in an eastern suburb of Beijing. Plain-clothes police officers stand guard in the stairwell.
The name on the gates of the modern apartment complex has a savage irony to it: "Bobo Freedom City".
The Olympic Torch heralding the 2008 Beijing Games will soon pass close by the house.
But the political prisoners of Hu's family will not get to see it carried aloft.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 4.4.2008
Previously in HS International Edition:
The Year of the Dog - A Chinese activist´s story (22.5.2007)
Hu Jia (Wikipedia)
SAMI SILLANPÄÄ / Helsingin Sanomat