Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang says he is exhausted after years in prison, but is ready to fight to reunite with his family in Beijing as authorities lock him up in a distant province.
Wang was detained in 2015 as part of a sweeping crackdown on hundreds of lawyers and rights activists and was released behind bars in a case that caught international attention earlier this month after four and a half years.
During his imprisonment, Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, became a high-profile advocate for his freedom, met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2018, and famously shaved her to draw attention to his plight.
Upon his release, Wang said he was taken to his hometown of Jinan in Shandong Province to undergo a 14-day coronavirus quarantine, despite testing negative five times.
The quarantine ended six days ago, but Wang says he was not allowed to leave Jinan to reunite with his wife and seven-year-old son in Beijing.
“I will definitely fight this, I cannot accept it. Reuniting with my family is a matter of course,” Wang, 44, told AFP in a video call.
Wang, the last of the lawyers involved in the crackdown that was released, was also denied political rights for five years – including freedom of assembly and publication.
“If you don’t have political rights, that doesn’t mean your human rights and freedoms are also limited,” he said.
“This time they used the epidemic as a convenient excuse to limit my freedom.”
Wang said the authorities also cited the annual session of the National People’s Congress, which usually takes place in March but has been postponed due to the pandemic, as an “excuse”.
Officials usually cause activists to leave Beijing on a forced “vacation” during major political events.
“I just wanted to reunite with my family,” said Wang. “Why worry so much?”
The United States urged China on Monday to give Wang “freedom of movement, including the opportunity to join his family in Beijing.”
Beijing replied that other countries should not interfere in their domestic affairs.
Police in Jinan and Shandong were not available for comment.
– Little energy –
Wang, a leading lawyer who has defended political activists and victims of land investment, was convicted of “undermining state power” in a closed-door trial that took place only in January 2019.
Now stranded in Jinan, Wang is still slowly adapting to life in confinement, and the only access to the internet is through his cell phone, which was returned to him by authorities on Monday.
His communication is constantly monitored. “I feel a little disjointed with the outdoors, I can’t walk a short distance without panting,” said Wang.
“I thought my body could recover well after prison, but now I realize I can’t, I don’t have much energy.”
Wang said he suffers from high blood pressure.
He declined to elaborate on reports of torture in prison and during the three years of incommunicado detention prior to his trial, saying that “some people may not be very happy and will dislike it.”
– International support –
Wang feels “deeply grateful” and “extremely touched” for the international support his cause received, although he is unsure if it affected the outcome.
“It gave my wife and family great comfort and encouragement during these long and difficult years,” he said.
“Without their support, I think it would have been very difficult to deal with it. This support probably allowed me to be safer and healthier. ”
Wang liked his first visitor on Monday, when human rights lawyer Xie Yang visited him and his sister visited him on Tuesday, his wife Li said.
Li fears that she will also be locked up in Jinan when she travels to visit him.
“I think they are concerned that their mistreatment of Wang will be fully revealed during his prison sentence,” Li told AFP.
Regardless of their motives or plans, their restrictions on Wang’s human rights and freedom violate the law. This should be condemned by everyone.
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