Beijing ( AsiaNews) - The Chinese government has released the journalist and blogger Shi Tao 15 months early. The man was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of " divulging state secrets ." The case sparked uproar , given that the arrest came about thanks to the active complicity of the computer giant Yahoo! which provided Beijing with the data necessary to identify him.
The group PEN International, which defends freedom of expression around the world , has confirmed Shi's release. A human rights activist , anonymous for security reasons , said the dissident was released "about a week ago" and "is not going to give interviews". The reason for the reduction of sentence is unclear, even if sometimes the Chinese prison authorities release inmates on good behavior.
Marian Botsford Fraser , PEN president, said: "We welcome the news of Shi Tao's early release. Shi was treated relatively well in prison during the last few years, and wrote many poems, including Song of October written from prison after he learned that Liu Xiaobo had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Shi's release comes at a time when there seem to be increasingly long shadows over freedom of expression in China. "
In fact, in recent months the Chinese government seems committed to the "mission impossible" of muzzling freedom of expression on the internet. The Chinese blogosphere, the second largest in the world by number of users, is increasingly a place of confrontation and protest against government abuses and corruption: at first the Party hailed it as "useful place to flush out the criminals, "but shortly after launched a fierce campaign against overly active or informed users.
The latest blogger to fall from grace was Charles Xue , a popular Chinese- American industrialist with 12 million "followers " on Sina Weibo , the micro- blogging site used in the country. Immediately after arresting him on charges of "causing trouble by spreading rumors" , the government has started a campaign to demolish him : he was described in all the major media as a " porn addict obsessed with prostitution and orgies ."
Nicholas Bequelin , a researcher for Human Rights Watch , based in Hong Kong , explains that " free voices like that of Xue have created a hierarchy of alternative information to that under the control of the Party , which consequently felt challenged . This is why it has launched a campaign to attack and destroy all those who seek to use the freedom provided by the Internet to access an alternative truth to that of Beijing. "