Imprisoned Chinese Rights Lawyer’s Family Hears From Him for First Time in 4 Years

May 15, 2019 Updated: May 31, 2019

Almost four years since his family and friends last heard from him, human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang recently successfully sent a letter to his wife Li Wenzu.

Wang was arrested by Chinese authorities in July 2015 during a nationwide crackdown of rights activists and lawyers, known as the 709 Incident; hundreds were rounded up and detained.

Wang, 43, has defended vulnerable Chinese citizens in court: farmers whose land were confiscated by authorities; practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline severely persecuted by the Chinese regime; and house Christians persecuted for their faith.

For his work, he has previously been detained and tortured several times.

For roughly four years, Wang’s whereabouts were unknown. Family and friends, at one point, found out that he was being detained at the Tianjin City Detention Center, but weren’t allowed to visit him. They couldn’t even confirm whether he was dead or alive.

His family members and friends never received a phone call or note from him, likely because authorities refused to grant him the right.

On Dec. 26, 2018, after Wang had been detained for 1,266 days, the Tianjin Second Intermediate People’s Court held a secret trial on Wang’s case. The detention center refused to allow the hired lawyer to visit Wang. On Jan. 28, the court sentenced Wang to four and a half years in prison on charges of “subversion of state power.”

Over the past four years, the U.S. administration, other Western governments, and human rights organizations have called on the Chinese regime to immediately release Wang.

But abruptly on May 10, Li received the very first letter from her husband since he was taken away by authorities.

On May 12, Li posted onto Twitter a letter she wrote in response to her husband: “I won’t let my hair grow long until you come back home.”

In December 2018, Li and the wives of three other detained Chinese human rights lawyers shaved their heads in a symbolic protest over the Chinese regime’s treatment of their husbands. Their protest is based on the fact that the Chinese character for “hair” and “law” are near-homonyms—“without hair” thus sounds similar to “lawlessness.”

Wang Quanzhang with his wife, Li Wenzu, and their son. Wang Quanzhang, a human rights lawyer, had been detained in China without trial since August 2015. (Courtesy of Li Wenzu)

First Letter

Wang said in his letter that he’d been transferred to Linyi Prison on April 29. He has relatively more free space now, eats better, and is allowed to walk around in the yard, as well as do some exercises.

“I couldn’t get any information from Quanzhang for almost four years. I wrote him letters, but didn’t receive any response. When I received his letter [on May 10], I was very emotional,” Li told the Chinese-language Epoch Times on May 11.

Wang didn’t directly write about his physical status, but said: “The nurse measures my blood pressure every day.” He also wrote: “My body’s functions are recovering quickly.”

A Chinese lawyer close to Wang, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Chinese-language Epoch Times on May 11: “I am sure this means his body has problems. But how bad the situation is, we have to wait until his release from prison. I have heard from many lawyers that they were tortured brutally in prison.”

Cryptically, Wang also wrote in his letter: “Without enough knowledge of history and politics, I misjudged the situation and missed a series of opportunities. I feel guilty because I have brought enormous trouble and pain to my family.”

Li said those words didn’t seem like what Wang would usually say.

“The letter was written in familiar handwriting, but the content is so strange,” she said. “His words expressing regret sound like they came from a person who has been brainwashed by the Chinese Communist Party for four years,” Li told the Chinese-language Epoch Times.

Wang thanked the lawyers’ wives who supported Li, expressed his appreciation to other lawyers who helped him, and begged for his parents’ and sister’s forgiveness. He also asked about how his young son was doing.

Wang added that people aren’t allowed to visit him now because the prison is renovating its visiting room, which will be finished by June 20.

Chinese rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan commented on Twitter: “Chinese law grants relatives the right to visit [prisoners]. The prison not allowing visitation rights with the excuse of room renovation is illegal and violates the relatives’ rights.”

While Wang seems to have expressed regret for his past actions, he talked about his future plans optimistically, saying that he still hopes to make a living using his legal training.