By Laurie Chen
Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang says he is drained after years in jail but ready to fight to reunite with his family in Beijing as authorities keep him confined in a distant province.
Detained in 2015 as part of a sweeping crackdown on hundreds of lawyers and rights activists, Wang was freed earlier this month after four-and-a-half years behind bars in a case that drew international attention.
During his imprisonment, Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, became a high-profile advocate for his freedom, meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2018, and famously shaved her head to bring attention to his plight.
Following his release, Wang said he was taken to his hometown of Jinan in Shandong province to undergo a 14-day coronavirus quarantine, despite having tested negative five times.
The quarantine ended six days ago, but Wang says he has not been 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 caught up in the crackdown to be released, was also deprived of political rights — including freedom of assembly and publication — for five years.
“Being deprived of political rights doesn’t mean having your human rights and freedoms limited as well,” he said.
“This time, they used the epidemic as a convenient excuse to limit my freedom.”
Wang said authorities also cited the annual session of the National People’s Congress, which usually takes place in March but was postponed due to the pandemic, as an “excuse”.
Officials usually make activists leave Beijing on a forced “holiday” during major political events.
“I just wanted to reunite with my family,” Wang said. “Why worry so much?”
The United States urged China on Monday to give Wang “freedom of movement, including the ability to join his family in Beijing”.
Beijing responded that other countries should not interfere in its internal affairs.
Police in Jinan and Shandong could not be reached for comment.
A prominent lawyer who has defended political activists and victims of land seizures, Wang was convicted for “subverting state power” in a closed-door trial that only took place in January 2019.
Now stranded in Jinan, Wang is still slowly adjusting to life in confinement, and the only internet access he has is through his mobile phone, which was returned to him by authorities on Monday.
His communications are under constant surveillance.
“I feel a bit disjointed from outside life, I cannot walk a short distance without panting,” Wang said.
“I thought that my body could recover well after prison, but now I realise I can’t, I don’t have very much energy.”
Wang said he suffers from high blood pressure.
He refused 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”.
Wang feels “very grateful” and “extremely moved” for the international support his case received, although he is not sure whether it affected the outcome.
“It gave my wife and family lots of comfort and encouragement throughout these long and difficult years,” he said.
“Without their support, I think it would have been very hard to cope. This support probably allowed me to be more safe and healthy.”
Wang was allowed his first visitor on Monday, when the human rights lawyer Xie Yang travelled to see him, and his sister visited him on Tuesday, his wife Li said.
Li fears that she would also end up confined in Jinan if she travels to visit him.
“I think they are scared that their mistreatment of Wang during his prison sentence may be fully revealed,” Li told AFP.
“Regardless of their motives or plans, their restrictions on Wang’s human rights and liberty are against the law. This should be condemned by all.”