BEIJING One of China's most prominent dissidents, Hu Jia, was reunited with his family in the early hours of Sunday after serving three-and-a-half-years in jail on subversion charges, but he was not ready to speak in public, his wife said.
Hu was convicted in 2008 for "inciting subversion of state power" for criticizing human rights restrictions in China, and was seen by some supporters as a potential recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize before it went to another jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, last year.
"He is back home with his parents and me," his wife, Zeng Jingyan, told Reuters in a brief telephone interview.
"I don't know if he can speak later. At the moment, I want everything to be peaceful. I'm worried that doing interviews at this stage might cause problems. Please understand."
She and other rights activists have voiced concern in the past that Chinese authorities might impose restrictions on him amounting to a form of house arrest after his formal release.
Hu Jia's long-scheduled release followed this week's abrupt freeing from detention of the prominent artist and activist Ai Weiwei, and has come while Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is visiting Europe on trips to Hungary, Britain and Germany.
China's Communist Party has cracked down on dissent since February, responding to fears that uprisings across the Arab world could also trigger challenges to its one-party rule. Many dissidents detained in that drive have been ordered by authorities to stay publicly silent after their release.
Hu's wife, Zeng, a prominent activist in her own right, had posted on Twitter accounts messages describing harassment from authorities before his release.
She told Reuters in late May that she was worried by the trend of rights activists coming under informal house arrest after their release from formal detention or jail.
"When I see this, I'm worried, very worried, that when Hu Jia gets out something bad will happen," she said.
Hu and Zeng live in an apartment complex in east Beijing called Bobo Freedom City. There was a heavy presence of police officers and security guards in the area on Sunday morning.
Hu was detained in late 2007 and then tried and convicted the following year on the subversion charges that stemmed from criticism of the government he had made in Internet writings and interviews with foreign reporters.
China often uses the broad charge of "inciting subversion" to punish dissidents, and when Hu was convicted, state media said that he had bowed to the accusations against him.
Before he was jailed, Hu, 37, pursued an energetic career as an environmental protection campaigner, advocate for rural victims of AIDS, and vocal critic of China's restrictions on political dissent. Shaven-headed and wearing bookish spectacles, he was a familiar sight at activist gatherings in Beijing.
He is also a Buddhist who has criticised China's controls on that religion in Tibet and voiced sympathy for the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader reviled by Beijing.
Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, said on Friday that "Hu Jia should never have been imprisoned in the first place," and she urged Beijing not to put him under informal house arrest.
"If that injustice is compounded by another form of detention it will show just how shallow the Chinese government's 'rule of law' commitments are," she said in an emailed statement ahead of Hu's release.
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina and Chris Buckley; Writing by Chris Buckley)