Hu Jia is one of China’s most prominent prisoners of conscience. He’s a thirty-six year old dissident who has fought for democratic reform, as well as advocacy for HIV/AIDS patients. He was thrown in jail in 2007 following his advocacy for Chinese peasants’ rights, though the technical charge was “the crime of inciting the overthrow of the state.” He’s most of the way through a three and a half year prison sentence, but a new blog post from his wife Zeng Jinyan reveals that he is incredibly sick and has a tumor on his liver that the Chinese authorities are refusing to allow him to be treated for. While Zeng’s post is heartbreaking to read, this passage about how Hu is passing his time in jail and uncompromising in his commitment to rights and democracy in China stands out.
The subscriptions to the magazines and newspapers that Hu Jia reads in prison come to most of his living expenses. He follows current events even more closely than we who live outside prison do. He asked me to make a contribution on his behalf for the Sichuan earthquake victims, to buy annual editions of books, to speak out for educational reform, and to cast a ballot for the election of Han Han as one of Time Magazines 100 most influential people. When he speaks with us, he speaks very mildly. The most something upsets him, such as solitary confinement or illness) the more lightly he speaks of it to us. This reassures us some, and makes us feel that his spirit has not been broken. I can go so far as to say with a teary smile, the disaster of prison has tempered both Hu Jia and myself. This tempering has made us more mature and steady.
As I wrote last week, the election of Han Han as Time Magazine’s second most influential person in the world is an incredible step forward in the push for change in China. That one of China’s most high-profile jailed dissidents would see the value of this magazine poll as a force for change is a testament to the importance of Han Han and dissident writers in the Chinese blogosphere. The internet is an incredibly powerful force for democracy and we are only beginning to see its power begin to become manifest in China.
Best of luck and best of health to Hu Jia for the duration of his prison sentence. I hope he’s reunited with his wife soon and he finds a more free China when he does.