A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer barred from returning home after his prison release two weeks ago has been prohibited from reuniting with his family after a 14-day quarantine period
Wang Quanzhang’s wife and rights groups fear authorities are using the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext to hold him indefinitely under de facto house arrest.
Wang, a lawyer who lives in Beijing, had taken on politically sensitive cases and defended activists and members of the banned religious group Falun Gong. He was taken to his hometown of Jinan, 400km (250 miles) south of Beijing, for a compulsory quarantine on 4 April.
But even though authorities told him he would be freed after 14 days, he has been barred from returning to Beijing, his wife Li Wenzu said on Sunday. “Today is the 15th day and he still can’t return to Beijing,” she told the Guardian. “I really cannot accept this.”
Li said 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.
She said Wang called her on Saturday, saying he was unable to go home because he had “just come out and needed to get used to (everything)”. She 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, , who was released on 28 February 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 is “a complete travesty of justice” and that the Chinese government seemed determined to silence Wang indefinitely.
William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International said Wang’s case shows 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’”.