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BEIJING (Reuters) - One of China's most prominent dissidents, Hu Jia, said police confiscated two computers from his home on Wednesday and warned that he could face renewed detention or investigation on accusations that he broke the terms of his jail release.
Hu, 38, was released in June last year after serving a jail sentence of three and a half years for "inciting subversion of state power", a charge used to punish dissidents who criticize China's ruling Communist Party in print and online.
Communist Party chiefs are preparing for a leadership handover late this year, when the party's long-standing focus on fending off political challenges is likely to intensify.
Hu has largely avoided the limelight since his release while showing support for rights campaigners and protesters through online comments, visits and appearances at government offices.
He told Reuters that authorities appeared to be seeking to silence him with the threat of fresh punishment.
"Eight police came to my home -- one of them was an Internet police investigator -- and took away two computers," he said, adding that the police had told him to go to a police station for further questioning on Thursday.
"They said I might have violated the conditions of my release and there could be consequences, perhaps detention for fifteen days or I could be held on suspected inciting subversion charges," he added in a telephone interview.
Reuters' calls to the police headquarters of Tongzhou district in Beijing, where Hu lives, were not answered.
If Hu is detained again, that could add to international friction over China's heavy grip on dissent, which recently brought the jailing of two less-well-known activists.
He won the European Parliament's human rights prize in 2008. Supporters also spoke of him as a potential recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which in 2010 went to his friend and fellow Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo.
Before he was detained in late 2007, Hu pursued an energetic career as an environmental protection campaigner, advocate for rural victims of AIDS, and critic of China's restrictions on dissent.
Hu said that when he was released from jail, police told him not to accept interviews from foreign reporters, protest, publish his views on the Internet or otherwise speak out. But he said he had always insisted he would not remain entirely silent.
He said the police might have been prompted to move against him because of his vocal support for Gao Zhisheng, a prominent Chinese right lawyer who was recently sent back to jail.
"I told them from the very beginning that when I saw other people's human rights were being violated, I wouldn't avoid speaking my views," he said. "I was never secretive about it. I told them that was my position."
In late December, a court in Guizhou, southwest China, jailed a veteran dissident, Chen Xi, for 10 years on subversion charges, in one of the heaviest sentences for political charges since the Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo was jailed two years ago.
Chen Xi's long sentence came days after another dissident -- Chen Wei from Sichuan province in southwest China -- was jailed for nine years on similar charges of "inciting subversion".
Editing by Yoko Nishikawa