Quarantine an excuse to extend detention of Chinese 709 lawyer Wang Quanzhang: wife

“[Wang] Quanzhang is not being isolated for the coronavirus, he is still being imprisoned,” Li said on her Twitter account on Sunday night.

Li said she feared her husband would be placed under de facto house arrest and face continuous surveillance.

In a phone interview, Li said Wang appeared to suffer from hearing and short-term memory losses.

“I was trying to get him to install WeChat but it requires a short verification and he couldn’t recall the code every time it was sent to him via text messages,” Li said.

Li described Wang as sounding “relatively relaxed and excited” but his flat was being watched constantly by “at least three people who pace outside” and were stationed near the flat.

“I’m still very anxious and have not been able to relax at all. I really fear he might end up like Jiang Tianyong. The only thing we can do now is to wait for this so called 14-day isolation to pass and see if he can really be free to join us in Beijing,” she said.

Jiang Tianyong is another human rights lawyer. He was arrested for consulting on the case of Xie Yang, a Hunan-based 709 lawyer, and has been put under close surveillance under his parents’ home in Henan province.

Jiang is followed wherever he goes and has not able to see visitors since his release from prison last year, according to his wife Jin Bianling.

On Sunday, Wang told another human rights lawyer, Li Heping, that he was under surveillance. In a phone call, Li Heping suggested Wang return to Beijing but Wang said he could not.

“This would be impossible,” Wang was heard saying, according to a video posted by Li’s wife, Wang Qiaoling, on Twitter on Sunday.

“Someone is watching … from the corridor outside the flat,” Wang could be heard saying.

Calls to the prison and Shandong’s justice department went unanswered.

Wang was among hundreds of human rights lawyers and legal activists rounded up by Beijing during the

so-called 709 crackdown in 2015,

named after the date on which it started, July 9. He was the last of the group to be officially tried.

Wang’s sister had planned to pick him up from the prison on Saturday, but was barred from doing so, according to Li.

In the meantime, Li Wenzu said she could not personally visit Wang because of travel restrictions preventing natives of Hubei, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, from returning to Beijing. Li is originally from Hubei.

While she successfully had food and a bouquet of flowers delivered to Wang on Sunday afternoon, she said an unnamed cousin of Wang was taken away for questioning by police after being turned away from Wang’s flat.

Wang Qiaoling said on Twitter that the bouquet of flowers she also ordered did not get to Wang, and the delivery man was taken into police custody.

Amnesty International China researcher Doriane Lau said the fact that authorities even turned away the delivery indicated Wang would likely face continued surveillance even though he had served his jail term.

“We are seeing more signs that the authorities are using the 14-day quarantine period for the coronavirus as a pretext to keep Wang under surveillance,” Lau said, adding that the group would carefully monitor Wang’s situation after two weeks.

“The Chinese government has a history of monitoring and controlling human rights defenders, even after they’re released from jail.”

While describing the release of Wang as a “positive development”, the European Union called for an investigation into the “serious mistreatment and torture” of Wang during his trial and detention.

“The European Union expects that 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,” the statement published on Sunday said.

Wang, who specialised in defending political campaigners and “land grab” victims, was charged with subversion of state power in 2016.

He was found guilty in January of last year in a secret trial in which he was refused legal representation. He was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison, and would be deprived of his political rights for five years – a parole-like period of heightened scrutiny.

In May last year, Wang was transferred from the detention facility in Tianjin to a prison in Linyi.

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