Nearly exactly one year after she was detained in the “Black Friday” roundup of human rights lawyers and activists, 24-year-old legal assistant Zhao Wei has reportedly been released on bail. Zhao was charged in January with “subversion of state power”—an exceptionally harsh charge that could deliver a sentence of life in prison. At The Guardian, Tom Phillips reports, noting continued outrage from her supporters:
Police in the city of Tianjin, where Zhao was being held, announced her release on bail on Thursday morning, on the eve of the crackdown’s one-year anniversary.
A post on the police force’s official Weibo account said Zhao was being bailed as a result of her “candid confession” to unspecified crimes and her “good attitude”.
[…] Like most of the more than 20 lawyers and activists still in custody, Zhao was being held on charges of political subversion.
The idealistic young legal assistant’s detention sparked outrage in and outside China, and Zhao Wei’s supporters greeted the announcement of her release with contempt. “What crime did she commit?” read one angry comment under the police’s social media post. “History will judge you,” said another. [Source]
Despite her release on bail, Zhao still may face subversion charges. Prior to her detention, Zhao had worked as a paralegal for rights lawyer Li Heping, who was also detained in last year’s roundup and remains in detention along with at least 20 others (and as many as 33, by some counts). The AFP reports on harassment that the wives of many of the still imprisoned rights lawyers are facing as they continue to campaign for the release of their loved ones:
Monitored, scared and made to feel like criminals, the women’s only offence is to be married to lawyers and activists detained by China’s Communist authorities. But a year after their husbands disappeared, they are defiant.
[…] This week five of them donned dresses emblazoned with their husbands’ names and marched to a national prosecutors’ office in Beijing , surrounded by dozens of police.
They clutched handwritten letters of complaint, accusing authorities in Tianjin, where all but one of the men are held , of a litany of procedural errors.
The women emerged disappointed, still holding their letters, after officials refused to even read them.
The authorities “limit our freedom by stalking us”, said Wang Qiaoling, whose husband Li Heping is among those held. “We have to creep around like criminals.” [Source]
— Tom Hancock? (@hancocktom) July 4, 2016
Before entering the building, the wives printed out their husbands’ names and stuck them to their dresses. They also stuck slogans like “waiting for you, Quanzhang” and “I support you Xie Yang”.
[…] Liang Xiaojun, lawyer to Xie Yanyi, one of the detained lawyers, told the BBC that police cars were lined up outside the prosecutor’s office upon their arrival on Monday morning, and plain clothes police officers filmed them as they spoke.
“We are figuring out what to do next,” he said.
Since 9 July 2015, the Chinese authorities have detained and questioned more than 200 human rights lawyers and activists. Some have been formally arrested and are facing charges like subversion of state power, which may lead to a life sentence. [Source]
At The Guardian, Tom Phillips and Christy Yao report on the newly released documentary “Shanshan’s Year,” which focuses on Xie Yanyi’s wife Yuan Shanshan:
Ai Xiaoming, the documentary’s director, said she hoped her film would showcase both the despair and the determination of the lawyers’ wives as they struggled to cope with the absence of their partners.
“I want people to see how the families of the human rights lawyers manage to survive even when they are put through the worst imaginable things,” she said.
Ai, a prominent activist and documentary maker who has made numerous films about Chinese society, said the resilience and fearlessness of the lawyers’ wives – who continue to demand the release of their husbands – had given her renewed hope for change in China.
“We must stick to our values and defend these values through our actions,” she said. [Source]
On the eve of the one year anniversary of the “Black Friday” crackdown, China Human Rights Defenders issued a call for all lawyers still in detention to be released, and Amnesty International called for an “end to the relentless repression against human rights lawyers.” Last month, as Zhou Shifeng and Xiao Lin, two of the detained lawyers, were facing trial, Human Rights Watch called for the release of them and their colleagues.