Chinese authorities have placed the wife of a detained Chinese human rights lawyer under de facto house arrest to stop her from attending his trial, she said Tuesday.

Li Wenzu, who last week shaved her head in protest at her husband’s indefinite detention, said there were “more than 20” security personnel outside her Beijing apartment by early afternoon.

One of them explicitly told her not to visit Tianjin, the city where her husband stands trial on Wednesday, she wrote on social messaging app WeChat.

Li Wenzu
In this file photo taken on December 17, 2018, Li Wenzu has her head shaved to protest the detention of her husband and Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, detained during the 709 crackdown, in Beijing. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP.

“I wish I could grow a pair of wings, free and unconstrained, and fly freely, fly to Tianjin”, Li said.

Local police in Beijing did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.

wang quanzhang
Wang Quanzhang. Photo: RFA.

Wang Quanzhang, who defended political activists and victims of land seizures, disappeared in a sweep aimed at courtroom critics of Communist authorities.

Charged in January 2016 with alleged “subversion of state power”, Wang is the only one of more than 200 lawyers and activists arrested in the so-called “709 crackdown” in 2015 who is yet to be tried or released.

On Monday, Li posted on Twitter that she had finally learned of her husband’s trial date, which was conspicuously set for the day after Christmas.

It is not the first time the Chinese government has chosen to sentence a political dissident during the year-end holiday season when international attention towards human rights cases is at a lull.

On Christmas Day 2009, Nobel laureate and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died of terminal liver cancer last year while under police custody, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for subversion.

Last year, Chinese activist Wu Gan, who refused to plead guilty to charges of “subverting state power”, was sentenced to eight years in prison the day after Christmas.

Besides Li, Chinese authorities are taking pains to ensure that other prominent rights activists and supporters do not attend the lawyer’s trial.

Zhang Baocheng, who received a two-year jail sentence in 2014 after calling for officials to disclose their assets as a measure against graft, said he had originally planned to travel to Tianjin for Wang’s trial.

But those plans have since been scuppered — Chinese authorities will travel with Zhang and control his movements all day on Wednesday, he said.

“You could call it their Christmas present,” he told AFP.

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