By Marina Riera
After being wrongfully imprisoned for four-and-a-half years, Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was released from prison on April 5, 2020 after serving his full term. Authorities made him quarantine in the city of Jinan, and afterwards he was finally allowed to return to Beijing and reunite – under guard – with his family.
Although Wang is free, there is no guarantee the authorities will leave him in peace. In recent years, Chinese authorities have intensified their efforts against human rights defenders, detaining and prosecuting them on fabricated criminal charges. In many cases, after releasing them from prison, authorities have subjected them and their families to various kinds of unofficial house arrest, harassment, surveillance, and travel bans.
Li Wenzu, Wang’s wife, had tirelessly campaigned for her husband since he was forcibly disappeared on August 2015 on politically motivated charges after a nationwide crackdown against lawyers and activists.
On April 4, 2018, the 999th day of her husband’s disappearance, Li started a 100-kilometer march from Beijing to the northeastern port city of Tianjin, where she believed her husband was being held. For years she was harassed by police, and their son was denied enrollment in Beijing’s kindergartens. Yet Li kept going, regularly visiting the court to file missing person reports and making her way to the detention center, demanding to see her husband.
Before his arrest, Wang was a lawyer working on politically sensitive human rights cases and wrote about China’s civil society and politics. He was charged without basis for “subversion of state power,” and detained incommunicado for over three years, during which he was allegedly tortured with electric shocks and unable to meet his family or family-appointed lawyers. In January 2019, a court sentenced him to four -and-a-half years in prison following a trial behind closed doors.
National and international nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Chinese rights advocates, repeatedly called for his release. In several instances during 2018, we urged the Chinese government to immediately release human rights lawyers, such as Wang, who had been detained or imprisoned on baseless subversion charges. Human Rights Watch also highlighted his case in its World Report 2020, a summary of human rights issues around the globe.
Wang is among the 300 rights lawyers, legal assistants, and activists that were interrogated and rounded up by Chinese police in July 2015, in what is known as the “709 crackdown” – for July 9, when most were detained. Those who have been released are closely monitored and isolated from friends and colleagues.
When it comes to the lawyers that defend or publicly speak about activists’ cases, Chinese authorities often try and intimidate and silence them, threatening to revoke their licenses.
Human Rights Watch will continue to work for the release of all human rights lawyers and activists that have been detained or imprisoned on politically motivated charges in China. We are closely following Wang’s case and advocating for his continued personal freedom.