Chinese Rights Lawyer Released From Prison Not Truly Free, Advocacy Group Says

April 5, 2020 Updated: April 6, 2020

Amnesty International said the recently released Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang may not be truly “freed.”

After serving a 4 1/2 year prison sentence for subverting state power, a euphemism for activities that the Chinese regime disapproves of, Wang was released on April 5.

But the organization expressed concern that he could still be monitored by authorities.

Concerns

“There are reasons to fear that Wang Quanzhang’s release from prison offers merely the illusion of freedom. The Chinese government has a history of monitoring and controlling human rights defenders even after they’re released from jail,” Doriane Lau, Amnesty’s China researcher, said in a statement on April 5.

Wang was arrested by Chinese authorities in July 2015 amid a nationwide crackdown on activists and human rights lawyers. He is known for defending poor villagers and adherents of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that is persecuted by the Chinese regime, but is practiced by over 100 million people in more than 100 countries and territories.

In January 2019, Wang was sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment, including the time he spent in pre-trial detention. Wang was incarcerated at a prison in Linyi, a city in eastern China’s Shandong province.

Wang’s family was continually denied visitation rights until June 2019, when his wife and son visited him briefly.

The European External Action Service, the European Union’s foreign policy arm, also issued a statement following Wang’s release. It stated that the European Union “expects Mr. Wang’s release will be unconditional, with particular regard to his freedom of movement and to establish residence, including the possibility to reunite with his family.”

It also called for the “unconditional release and rehabilitation of all those currently imprisoned or under restriction of movement in China on political grounds.”

Release

Prior to Wang’s release, his wife, Li Wenzu, wrote in an April 3 tweet that local police showed up at the workplace of Wang’s older sister and claimed that local quarantine policies surrounding the current epidemic would forbid the sister and her husband from picking up Wang on his scheduled release day of April 5.

A day later, Li tweeted a video, showing plainclothes police who showed up at Wang Quanxiu’s workplace. They prevented the latter from leaving the building to go pick up her brother.

Li said her husband was forced by prison officials to call her, trying to obtain her consent to have him travel on his own to Jinan, where she and their son live.

On April 5, Li announced on Twitter that she got a call from her husband at around 9 a.m., telling her that he was released from prison four hours earlier.

“Quanzhang made the call using a phone from a local community official. So he only said a few things. He told me that he will contact me once he has purchased a phone,” Li wrote.

At 5:40 p.m., Li said in a tweet that she had ordered food and flowers for her husband, which were delivered to him, but it was unclear whether they were reunited.

Amnesty said in its statement that it was not optimistic about Wang’s situation. “Today may mark the end of Wang Quanzhang’s unjust imprisonment, but the politically motivated campaign against him is only likely to enter a new phase. Despite his release, he will be subject to heavy surveillance and unable to return to the home where his wife and young child have been waiting for him for four and a half years,” Lau said.

She further called on authorities to give Wang full freedom. “It is an outrage that he was ever jailed in the first place, but now he has served his sentence the authorities must immediately lift all restrictions on him and allow him to return to his family home,” Lau concluded.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer