Reporters Without Borders calls on the Chinese authorities to provide clear information about the apparent release of Zhao Lianhai (赵连海), an online activist who was arrested in November 2009 and was given a 30-month jail sentence last month for creating and running a website about the tainted milk powder sold by the Chinese company Sanlu.
After initially going on hunger strike and announcing his intention to appeal, he told his lawyers he wanted no more contact with them and would not after all file an appeal. This led human rights groups to suspect that he had reached an agreement with the authorities under which he would be granted a parole, possibly on medical grounds.
Zhao finally reported on his blog two days ago that he had been released. He said he was being treated in a hospital and did not want to be contacted. And, completely contradicting his previous statements, he apologised to the authorities. “I support, acknowledge and thank the government, and express deep regret for my previous extreme opinions towards the government,” he wrote.
Reporters Without Borders wonders whether Zhao was pressured to post this message and renounce his rights. His and his wife’s mobile phones have been disconnected. His lawyer, Li Fangping, told Agence France-Presse he was unable to confirm whether he had been released.
Journalists who were trying to confirm the rumours that he had been granted a medical parole were prevented from approaching his home on 10 December and some of them were physically attacked. The police refused to investigate the attack when it was reported to them.
The authorities seem to be using a new form of pressure on bloggers and activists, consisting of making prisoners of conscience vanish and then spreading the word that they have been released in a gesture of clemency.
Zhao’s case is not unique. The fate of Hada, a journalist and defender of Mongol ethnic minority rights, is also unknown. The authorities claim that they released him when he completed a 15-year jail sentence on 10 December. But neither he nor his closest relatives can be reached (read the article). Gao Zhisheng, one of the first “barefoot lawyers,” has been missing since April but the authorities refuse to register his disappearance (read the article).