Out of Jail in China, but Not Free

In the New York Times, Did Kirsten Tatlow writes about Zeng Jinyan, wife of imprisoned activist Hu Jia, their three-year-old daughter, and the history of house arrest in China:

Baobao’s questions about her father’s incarceration are becoming too difficult to handle, says Ms. Zeng, 28.

“She’s asking, ‘Why do those men have guns? Who are they going to shoot? Why is daddy in a uniform with an identity card on his shirt? Is my daddy a policeman?”’ Ms. Zeng said in a recent telephone interview. “I find it really hard to answer to answer these questions, so I think I won’t bring her along anymore. Hu Jia is coming out soon, anyway.”

Jailed for nearly all Baobao’s life, Mr. Hu has not gotten to know his daughter well. That may change after he’s released — perhaps more than the family bargained for. Expectations are growing among human rights advocates that Mr. Hu will be subjected to house arrest, or “soft detention,” a form of extrajudicial punishment increasingly used by the authorities to control well-known dissidents.

[…] The parallels with the past are eerie, and instructive.

During the Song dynasty, house arrest was legal, but its legality was blurred by the practice of detaining victims indefinitely after they had served their — usually two — years. Much as Mr. Hu could find himself under extrajudicial house arrest after serving his court-ordered time in June, a person convicted of criticizing the emperor or court during the Song was often kept under surveillance long after his sentence had expired.

As was the case 1,000 years ago, “soft detention” centers on the home, but the physical radius can vary, said Ms. Wang. Targets might be allowed to go to work under police scrutiny, or to travel within a fixed perimeter.


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