Critical Chinese writer released on conditional terms

New York, August 11, 2011–Authorities should cease the residential surveillance of writer Ran Yunfei and allow him to communicate freely following his release from jail this week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Ran has been forbidden from speaking publicly, according to The Associated Press.

Ran, a western Sichuan-based commentator and literary magazine editor detained during a round-up of government critics in February, is the latest online writer to be released from jail to home surveillance. Although reports said he had been indicted for inciting subversion against the state for his wide-ranging social and political articles, his release suggests the charges have been dropped. However, security agents are restricting his movements and he has been ordered not to continue his outspoken online commentaries, conditions that leave him vulnerable to re-arrest for noncompliance, international news reports said. 

“Ran Yunfei has committed no crime and should be allowed complete freedom,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Keeping writers and journalists under house arrest is simply an attempt to bully them into keeping quiet.”

Internet writer Yang Hengjun and artist and documentary filmmaker Ai Weiwei were also released this year on the condition that they not discuss the details of their detentions, which resembled state-sponsored kidnappings and did not follow Chinese legal procedure, CPJ research showed. After his release, Yang spoke euphemistically about his disappearance in terms that supporters said indicated a secret detention. Police neglected to inform Ai’s family of his detention or file criminal charges within the periods required by law.

Yang, Ai, and Ran are among dozens of high-profile writers, activists, and lawyers who were detained, harassed, or threatened in response to unsigned demands for a Chinese Arab Spring posted online in February. The whereabouts of other detainees, including Ai’s freelance journalist associate Wen Tao, remain unknown.

Invasive surveillance of dissidents in their homes, sometimes combined with physical intimidation by security agents, restricts residents from communication with the outside world, CPJ research showed. Many victims and journalists have documented the experience, including lawyer and civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng and Zeng Jinyan, wife of the formerly imprisoned journalist Hu Jia. House arrest, sometimes called “soft detention,” is an extrajudicial punishment that can be imposed in China even if an individual, like Ai, was never formally arrested, according to international news reports.

Some commentators ignore post-incarceration restraints and continue to speak out. Ai, who lives in Beijing, recently used his personal Twitter account to encourage his followers to call for the release of Ran and imprisoned activist Wang Lihong.