Rights Lawyer Wang Quanzhang Reunited With Family After Almost Five Years

Rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was reunited with his family in Beijing on Monday, almost five years after his detention following the 2015 “Black Friday” or “709” crackdown, and more than two weeks after his apparent “non-release ‘release’” from prison. The continued restrictions on Wang were initially justified as a COVID-19 quarantine; then, when the two-week quarantine period had elapsed, as a manifestation of the continued “deprivation of political rights” that was part of his sentence for subversion in a closed trial in late 2018. During the three and a half years before his trial, in which Wang was held incommunicado, his previously apolitical wife Li Wenzu became part of an outspoken group of partners and other relatives calling for justice and freedom for 709 detainees. Her sudden illness on Sunday appears to have precipitated the reunion. From AFP’s Laurie Chen:

“In the past five years, I imagined many times that we met… I feel like it’s a dream!,” said a tearful Li in one of the videos, after holding Wang and their seven-year-old son in a tight embrace for several minutes.

[…] Wang was accompanied home by “around 10” minders including local police from his hometown of Jinan, Shandong province and management staff from Li’s apartment block, said Wang Qiaoling, the wife of another released human rights lawyer Li Heping who was present at the family’s reunion.

Another video shows that three minders attempted to follow Wang into the apartment, but were refused entry by Li and Wang Qiaoling.

Jinan police escorted Wang to Beijing one day after Li was suddenly rushed to hospital with severe abdominal pain, Wang Qiaoling said.

Li told AFP that she was diagnosed and treated for acute appendicitis and was sent back home on Sunday evening, after spending most of the day in Beijing’s Xiyuan Hospital. [Source]

An embrace awaited for five years!

At South China Morning Post, Guo Rui reported on the reunited family and the events leading to Wang’s return:

Wang told the South China Morning Post that he was enjoying being back with his family and was taking things one step at a time.

[…] Li said she felt the pain of the appendicitis was “worth it” for her husband’s return.

“Although it hurts very, very much, almost killed me, I feel … thankful, because he would not have come back if i had not had it,” she said.

[…] On learning that Li had been hospitalised over the weekend, Wang tried to get a taxi to Beijing but was stopped by police.

Wu Yangwei, a Guangzhou-based independent political analyst, said the authorities apparently gave in to public pressure over Li’s plight and allowed Wang to return to Beijing. [Source]

NYU law professor , another longtime supporter of Wang’s, commented on Twitter:

Cohen addressed the “far-fetched” use of deprivation of political rights to justify continued restrictions on Wang in another thread last week, and examined possible signs of official uncertainty over how to handle “this extraordinary couple” in an essay at The Diplomat.

Despite the restrictions on his movements and communications before his arrival in Beijing, Wang was able to give several interviews by phone. South China Morning Post’s Mimi Lau described Wang’s views on the case against him, and his reticence on questions about mistreatment like that reported by fellow rights lawyer Xie Yang and others. Supporters have previously reported that Wang was subjected to torture including electric shocks.

“I committed no crimes but it was very clear that they were determined to put me in jail,” Wang said. “I refused to accept that and I would not compromise on any ground.”

[…] Wang acknowledged that accepting interview requests now could be risky for him, given that he still faced a host of restrictions imposed by the authorities that he would have to “break through one by one”.

In the interview with the Post, he was hesitant to talk about the 709 crackdown, citing fear that any discussion of it would bring him trouble. In particular, he declined to say whether he had been tortured during his incarceration, saying that “certain people in some departments would be angry” if he made such comments.

“I was held in four detention centres and two other secret locations before I was put on trial,” he said. “I was treated differently in those locations and I could not recall the details accurately now of what happened exactly in each location. [Source]

Jerome Cohen suggested in his Diplomat essay that Wang’s evasion “was a clever way of actually providing an answer, since, if Wang said that he had not been tortured, this would not have angered ‘certain people.'”

Wang commented further on the case against him in another interview with Deutsche Welle’s William Yang (who posted a fuller transcript separately on Medium):

The judges randomly charged and sentenced me. They first tried to charge me for “creating disturbance,” but later indicted me for “state subversion.” Before charging me, the prosecutor said that “we spent a year and a half to determine that your crime is subversion of state.” They did not tell me which law I actually violated.

I merely participated in some events between 2009 and 2011, so I didn’t know what the logic was behind their charges against me. I asked prosecutors whether I was targeted for my speeches or my behavior. They said the charges were related to my behavior. As they charged me with state subversion for posting material on Weibo, I asked them what was illegal about it. They replied that the mere “act of typing” on Weibo constituted state subversion. I was just speechless at their response.

If Chinese authorities want in the country, they need to stop abusing power. They can’t expand their power while limiting people’s rights. It is a ridiculous situation.

[…] I was imprisoned in four different detention centers, and two unknown locations. Most of the defendants in my case were released as local officials said we didn’t commit any crime. However, the judges still kept bringing up cases to use them as evidence of my crime. It is alarming that the court of law tries to find a way to prosecute someone that the government wants jailed. [Source]

In a second report from SCMP’s Mimi Lau on Sunday, Wang described how he had endured the emotional pressure of his imprisonment, and the physical and psychological toll it had taken:

“I was suddenly isolated from the whole world and I was totally consumed by the pain that I was separated from my wife and son. As it went on, I had no choice but to force myself to give up my emotional reliance on them and become indifferent,” he said.

“Honestly, I would not be able to stand my ground for so long if I had not become indifferent. So this was why I was very aloof to my family when they visited me at the prison.”

[…] “I kept my distance from them at the time … but I’m beginning to warm up through regular video calls and I am trying to gradually find my way back to the psychological and emotional state of a normal person,” Wang said.

[…] “I’ve lost my teeth,” he said. “When I was in jail, I had to appear optimistic but I was deeply depressed emotionally. This resulted in so much anxieties that has given me high blood pressure, and problems with my teeth.

“But what feared me the most was the safety of my wife and son. When I was first locked up, I even had nightmares that my son was abducted and sold [by human traffickers].” [Source]

In an interview with Gao Feng at Radio Free Asia, Wang commented on his “non-release ‘release'”:

I have been demanding all along to be allowed to be reunited with my wife and child in Beijing, but they are still restricting my freedom. They have removed the quarantine arrangements and there aren’t security guards at the bottom of the building any more. I can leave the residential compound, and I can meet with my family, lawyer and friends. But they are still following me around, in a vague sort of way. For example, the security guards from the residential compound tend to follow me from a distance, and they will probably be reporting back [to police]. They told me I can go anywhere else [in China] except for Beijing. I told them that I need to go to Beijing first and foremost, to be with my wife and child. The excuse they used to start off with was quarantine, but now that’s ended, they’re saying it’s because of the annual parliamentary sessions. […]

[…] There is nothing on paper preventing me from going to Beijing; they conveyed this to me verbally. The authorities interpret the law to serve their own interests, to turn it to their own profit. I think they are breaking it. I hope that more professionals will come forward to promote [the law]. [Source]

The Two Sessions annual parliamentary meetings were originally planned for March but were postponed and have now been rescheduled for late May due to the pandemic.

Wang’s case is not the only one showing signs of abuses by authorities under the guise of disease control measures. Forced quarantines have also been reported in the cases of citizen journalists reporting on the outbreak from Wuhan, including the recently released Li Zehua. Recent actions by mainland and local authorities in Hong Kong have raised suspicion that they are using the ban on public gatherings as cover to take potentially inflammatory steps without rekindling last year’s massive street protests, while other reports point to opportunistic assertiveness on other fronts from territorial and maritime disputes to diplomacy and foreign investment.

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