Chinese prison authorities have allegedly released the first video footage of rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang since his imprisonment. His wife Li Wenzu said it showed him in poor physical and mental health.

On Monday, Li and Wang’s sister tried to visit the lawyer at Linyi Prison in Shandong province. They were previously denied visits because authorities claimed the visiting room was undergoing renovation.

Li Wenzu (centre). Photo: Li Wenzu, via Facebook.

Li said that prison officials met with her four times over the course of the day to dissuade her from seeing Wang face-to-face. During the fourth and final meeting, they showed her a 3-minute video clip of Wang – the first time he has been seen since his 2015 detention.

“[Wang] looked gaunt, his expressions were slack and his response was lethargic. His gaze shifts around when he speaks, and when he finishes a sentence it takes ages for him to stammer out the next,” Li said in a Facebook post.

“Today I travelled miles from Beijing to Linyi, spending nearly nine hours on an overnight train. However, Linyi Prison is using a pre-made ‘Wang Quanzhang video’ to substitute an in-person meeting. This series of strange actions, which makes a simple thing complicated, makes me even more worried for [Wang’s] physical and mental condition.”

Li added that the video left “her heart bleeding” and she would continue to insist on a meeting with Wang. On Tuesday, Li and the “709 relatives” – family members of those detained in the 2015 crackdown – went to the prison again, and shouted Wang’s name outside the prison walls.

Wang was detained as part of the “709 crackdown” in 2015, a wide-reaching clampdown on Chinese lawyers and activists. Wang was charged with inciting subversion of state power last February, but he was not heard from again until July last year.

He finally faced trial on Boxing Day last year – a secretive arrangement that his wife only learned about two days in advance. On the day of the trial, Chinese authorities placed Li under de facto house arrest to stop her from going to the Tianjin courthouse.

Wang Quanzhang. Photo: RFA.

Wang was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on January 28 for subversion of state power. The trial took place behind closed doors, and little was known about it except that Wang fired his state-approved lawyer within minutes.

On Monday, Li argued that there was no legal basis for Linyi Prison officials to stop her from seeing Wang, or for them to use the video as a substitute.

Dubious letters

On May 10, Li said that she received a letter from him dated May 7, saying that he was “reflecting on his mistakes.”

However, Li said she became suspicious of the letter because it cited two lines of poetry and had different handwriting. “Have you been practicing calligraphy for four years? At first glance, it is an intimate love letter, but the longer I look at it the more distant it feels,” she wrote in a reply.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The next letter purportedly from Wang also drew Li’s suspicion, since it seemed to reply to her latest letter but bore a postmark of May 10.

“Today I received your reply, I didn’t cry, I was so happy I laughed! You received on May 10 the letter I sent on the 11th. Seems like Linyi Prison has a 6G connection!” Li wrote. “Next time, no matter what, don’t forget to sign your name and include the date.”

Spurred by her dissatisfaction with the letters, Li and other relatives of the victims of the 709 crackdown decided last Friday to go to Linyi Prison in person.

The Hong Kong Free Press #PressForFreedom 2019 Funding Drive seeks to raise HK$1.2m to support our non-profit newsroom and dedicated team of multi-media, multi-lingual reporters. HKFP is backed by readers, run by journalists and is immune to political and commercial pressure. This year’s critical fundraiser will provide us with the essential funds to continue our work into next year.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.