YAN'AN, China — Hu Jia, a prominent Chinese dissident whose activism on behalf of the environment and AIDS sufferers landed him in prison for the last 31/2 years, was released early Sunday and returned to his home in Beijing, his wife said in a Twitter posting.
"Sleepless night," Hu Jia's wife, Zeng Jinyan, posted on Twitter. "Hu Jia arrived home at 2:30 in the morning. Safe, very happy. Needs to rest for a while. Thanks, everyone."
Hu was arrested in December 2007, and convicted by a Beijing court in April 2008 of "incitement to subvert state power," a catchall law frequently used to target critics of China's authoritarian communist government. Hu, 37, began as an environmental campaigner, and took up the cause of victims of HIV and AIDS in China, before his activism led him to become increasingly critical of the government.
At the time, human rights groups and others said the authorities wanted to remove an outspoken critic before the start of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
Hu is the second high-profile activist to be released in less than a week. On Wednesday, renown dissident artist Ai Weiwei was allowed to return to his home in Beijing after 80 days held incommunicado, on what the government said was tax evasion charges.
Another activist, Chen Guangcheng — a blind lawyer who exposed forced abortions and forced sterilizations under the government's family planning program — was released last year after four years in prison, but has been kept under an unofficial kind of house arrest in his village in Shandong province.
Hu's 2007 detention proved a harbinger of what has become an increasingly draconian response to social and political protest by China's Communist Party and its security establishment. The authorities stepped up their activities in December 2008, after scores of dissidents and intellectuals released a manifesto titled Charter 08 calling for democratic reforms.
A principal author of that document, the writer Liu Xiaobo, was arrested. In October, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the government responded with another sweeping crackdown on activists.