A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer who was released two weeks ago after spending almost five years in prison for subversion has been prohibited from reuniting with his family for the second time, after a 14-day quarantine period amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wang Quanzhang’s wife and rights groups fear the authorities are using the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext to continue holding him indefinitely under de facto house arrest, like what happened to many Chinese right activists who completed their prison terms.
Wang, a lawyer who had defended political activists and members of the banned Falun Gong sect, was released April 4 but was barred from returning home by the authorities, who took him to his hometown, Jinan, in the eastern province of Shandong, 400 kilometers south of Beijing, for compulsory quarantine.
The authorities told him upon his release that he would be freed after 14 days of quarantine. However, on Sunday, the day he should be free to go home, Wang was still barred from returning to Beijing, where his wife and 7-year-old son live, his wife, Li Wenzu, said.
She said Wang told her by phone Saturday that he was unable to come home because he had “just come out and needed to get used to [everything].” She questioned whether he was speaking of his free will.
Li said that during the past two weeks, Wang was only able to hold phone conversations with her under the supervision of police, who controlled the content and length of his communications.
In their conversations over the past two weeks, she said Wang had said her online postings “were causing him trouble” and ordered her to delete them.
Li questioned whether he was speaking of his own accord. “This is not the Wang Quanzhang I knew,” she said. “The pain is like a knife stabbing into my bleeding heart.”
Wang was detained in August 2015. After being held incommunicado for three and a half years he was sentenced in January 2019 on the blanket charge of “subversion of state power”.
He was one of more than 300 lawyers and activists detained in crackdowns that started in July 2015. He was the last lawyer of the group to be convicted.
Francine Chan, the executive director of Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, said: “The harassment, surveillance and effective house arrest of Wang Quanzhang after his ‘release’ vividly illustrate China’s use of the pandemic to extend Wang’s imprisonment in violation of Chinese and international law.”
Chinese rights activists are often released from prison into de facto house arrest or enforced restriction to their native village, where they remain for years. This is a practice dubbed “non-release release” by rights groups.
Another lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, who was released on February 28 2019, is still under house arrest in his hometown in rural Henan and has been denied proper medical care.
Human Rights Watch’s China researcher, Yaqiu Wang, called Wang Quanzhang’s continued detention “a complete travesty of justice” and said the Chinese government seemed determined to silence Wang indefinitely.
William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, said Wang’s case showed the suppression of the lawyer community “combined with the Communist party’s systematic use of incommunicado detention, torture and ill-treatment, harassment of family members, show trials and post-release surveillance has given the international community a clear warning of what to expect under China’s understanding of ‘rule by law’”. (Source: The Guardian)