Prominent Chinese dissident Liu Jingsheng was released from prison yesterday after more than a decade behind bars, while dozens in Beijing were detained or placed under house arrest ahead of another activist's trial.
Liu stopped short of saying whether he would continue to take part in pro-democracy activities but said he was still concerned about the many problems facing his people.
"I am an ordinary citizen, I don't have a lot of ambition but I still care very much about the situation of Chinese people," Liu told reporters after his release.
He took part in the 1978 Democracy Wall movement, published the underground magazine Exploration and helped set up the China Freedom and Democracy Party after the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.
"I am still the same person. I haven't changed the way I think," he said.
Liu, 50, said his political rights would be curtailed for four years after his release and there were limits on his freedom of speech and publication.
"It is not convenient to talk about lots of things now," he said.
Liu, who was released more than two years before his sentence ended, had been suffering from high blood pressure, heart and stomach problems.
"I am well," he said. "I am in good spirits and my health is okay."
Liu, who was detained in May 1992 and sentenced two years later on charges of "organizing and leading a counter-revolutionary organization" and "inciting counter-revolutionary subversion," was due for release in May 2007.
But his release does not mean China is relaxing its grip on other activists.
At least two people were detained in police custody -- one said she was beaten -- and some 20 more prevented from leaving home by Beijing police as they tried to attend the trial of high-profile activist Ye Guozhu.
Ye was detained in August after applying to organize a 10,000-strong demonstration in Beijing and was later formally arrested on charges of disturbing social order.
Many of his supporters are activists and petitioners who have appealed to the central government to deal with their grievances with little result.
Wheelchair-bound Ni Yulan, who said she received spinal injuries in a police beating in 2002, said she was kicked by police at Xinjiekou police station after she was picked up from her home while preparing to go to the court early yesterday.
Internet dissident Liu Di was detained for four hours. AIDS activist Hu Jia was put under police surveillance and barred from leaving home even though he needed to go to a hospital. Police refused to comment on the detentions.
New York-based Human Rights in China, which this week announced the news of Liu's early release, urged the government to show similar tolerance to other activists behind bars.
Despite China's stellar economic growth and the unprecedented personal and economic freedoms enjoyed by its citizens, the country still has little tolerance for voices of dissent.