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March 27, 2014

Chinese Quake Activist Released from Prison

by Da Hai Han

A Chinese activist who tried to investigate whether shoddy construction caused the deaths of thousands of children when their schools collapsed in a 2008 earthquake has been released from prison after serving a five year sentence.

Tan Zuoren's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, is quoted as saying Tan was reunited with his wife Thursday and sent home to the Sichuan capital, Chengdu. Attempts by VOA to reach him or his wife have failed.

Chinese media reports in Hong Kong say Tan and his wife were taken to the city of Chongqing, where they are under constant surveillance.

Huang Qi, who also served time in prison after trying to investigate the 2008 school collapses, told VOA's Mandarin service Tan was released despite his refusal to apologize for his alleged crimes.

“Tan’s Wife came to my home yesterday and talked a bit about Tan continuing his civil rights work after he is released from prison," Huang said. "While in prison, Tan refused to write a statement of regret or repentance or sign a guarantee. He said that once he was released from prison he would continue his work of defending civil rights.”

Tan was formally jailed for articles he published online about the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. But activists believe he was jailed the second time for attempting to investigate corruption involving the collapse of thousands of schools in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

At the time, authorities said about 7,000 schools were destroyed or badly damaged in the quake, leaving 5,335 students dead or missing.

The collapsed schools sparked angry accusations from parents that corruption had enabled low building standards.

The 8.0-magnitude disaster left more an estimated 80,000 people dead or missing.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service. Some information for this report comes from AFP.