Chinese activist Hu Jia (胡佳) said he was beaten by men he identified as state security forces on Wednesday, the same day as a sensitive court case involving a firm founded by dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未).
Hu, a government critic and friend of Ai who was released from prison in June last year after completing a more than three-year sentence for subversion, said Chinese state security forces set on him to prevent him from leaving his apartment.
“This is the first time it’s happened since I left prison,” Hu said, adding he was bleeding and hurt after the incident on Wednesday evening, but did not require medical attention.
He said the men did not tell him why they were stopping him from leaving his home near Beijing.
Hu was jailed in 2008 after angering the Chinese Communist Party through years of campaigning for civil rights, the environment and AIDS patients, and has been under surveillance since being released from prison.
The incident took place on the same day as a high-profile hearing in Beijing challenging a multi-million-dollar tax penalty brought against a firm founded by Ai.
The case has been described by Ai as politically motivated, and it is hugely sensitive.
Scores of police were outside the courthouse on Wednesday, telling foreign reporters to leave the premises. Ai himself was not allowed to attend.
Hu said he had decided against going to court on Wednesday after hearing that Ai had not been allowed to go, and was set upon in the evening as he left his apartment to buy groceries.
He said the altercation may have been linked to the sensitivity surrounding Ai’s tax case, but added the incident may also have been caused by a recent trip he took to Dongshigu Village in eastern China to visit the relatives of blind activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), who recently escaped house arrest and left for the US.
Meanwhile, Ai yesterday said he was still barred from leaving the country despite the expiry of a one-year bail term that included a stringent travel ban.
The 55-year-old spent 81 days in custody last year after being detained trying to board a flight at Beijing’s international airport as police rounded up dissidents amid online calls for Arab Spring-style protests in China.
On his release on June 22 last year his passport was taken away from him and he was ordered not to leave Beijing for a year after authorities accused him of tax evasion.
Yesterday, Ai — whose works are displayed around the world — said he had received an official order announcing the lifting of his bail term, but that he was still barred from leaving the country.
“This morning, I went to the police station ... My one-year probation is finished, but they said they will still limit my rights to travel,” he said. “The order says I cannot travel outside of China.”
Ai said he was unsure whether he was now able to leave the capital, but that the order did not specify that he was prohibited from traveling within China.
“They said I’m still under investigation for my other crimes. So I said, ‘you have to make a case, you can’t just say that,’” he said.
Ai’s detention last year sparked an international outcry, with the US and the EU leading calls for his release.
Xinhua news agency said after Ai’s release that he had “confessed” to tax evasion via Beijing Fake Cultural Development, the company he set up, but which is legally registered in his wife’s name.