In­jus­tice in China

Li Wenzu has spent three years fight­ing to free her hus­band – a hu­man rights lawyer. But her hopes for jus­tice are slim

The Guardian Weekly - - Inside - By Lily Kuo TIANJIN

It was a lit­tle after 5am on 26 De­cem­ber when Li Wenzu tried to leave her apart­ment to at­tend her hus­band’s trial. She hadn’t slept much for the pre­vi­ous two nights after learn­ing that hu­man rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang would fi­nally face trial after more than three years of wait­ing in prison. She hadn’t been able to see or speak to him dur­ing that time.

Hours be­fore the trial was to be­gin, Li walked down the seven flights of stairs of her apart­ment block in Bei­jing to find more than a dozen plain­clothes po­lice and four cars await­ing her out­side. She had al­ready been warned by pub­lic se­cu­rity agents not to at­tend her hus­band’s trial at a court­house in the north­ern Chi­nese city of Tianjin.

After three years of protest­ing and call­ing for the re­lease of her hus­band, on trial for sub­vert­ing the state, a charge often used for dis­si­dents, Li is used to the po­lice re­strict­ing her move­ments. “Ev­ery time it feels dif­fer­ent. To­day is Wang Quanzhang’s court hear­ing, which means there could be a ver­dict. So I am very wor­ried about that as well as his health,” she said last Wed­nes­day.

Li was quickly sur­rounded by a crowd of jour­nal­ists and se­cu­rity agents, hold­ing up their phones to film her. As she tried to move, se­cu­rity agents blocked her way. It was clear they were not go­ing to let her leave, and she was forced to re­turn to her apart­ment.

“My hus­band is in­no­cent. He was il­le­gally ar­rested and de­tained for three-and-a-half years. Through­out this time, the au­thor­i­ties have con­tin­ued to break the law, for­bid­ding lawyers from see­ing him, and cut­ting him off from all com­mu­ni­ca­tion. They have de­prived him of his rights … I de­mand Wang Quanzhang be freed be­cause he is in­no­cent,” she said.

Last Wed­nes­day, Wang – who was de­tained in Au­gust 2015 after years of de­fend­ing po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists, vic­tims of land seizures and mem­bers of the banned re­li­gious group Falun Gong – faced a closed trial in Tianjin. Po­lice cor­doned off the road out­side the court­house. Dozens of plain­clothed se­cu­rity guards po­liced the area.

Be­fore the trial was sched­uled to be­gin, a man held up a sign out­side the court that said: “Free in­no­cent Wang Quanzhang.” He was taken away, ac­cord­ing to pho­tos posted on so­cial me­dia.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the US, Swiss, UK and Ger­man em­bassies were out­side the court­house and were also re­fused ac­cess. The trial, which was sched­uled to be­gin at 8:30am lo­cal time, ap­peared to be over by early af­ter­noon when se­cu­rity cleared.

Wang’s case marks the close of one of the most se­ri­ous cam­paigns against ac­tivists un­der pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. He is one of an es­ti­mated 250 lawyers and ac­tivists de­tained in the sum­mer of 2015, now known as the 709 crack­down after the first day of the de­ten­tions. He was the last of a group still await­ing trial.

Ac­cord­ing to a copy of his in­dict­ment seen by the Guardian, au­thor­i­ties said Wang “se­ri­ously harmed the coun­try’s se­cu­rity and so­cial sta­bil­ity” by ac­cept­ing funds from for­eign or­gan­i­sa­tions, train­ing “bare­foot” (self-taught) lawyers, rep­re­sent­ing “cults”, and pro­vid­ing in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports over­seas. He was also ac­cused of “ma­li­ciously in­cit­ing” op­po­si­tion to the gov­ern­ment by pub­lish­ing in­for­ma­tion on­line about the de­ten­tion of four lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the Falun Gong in 2014.

Wang’s case is also unique for the amount of time he has been held in­com­mu­ni­cado. He dis­ap­peared in 2015, but it was not un­til last July that his fam­ily knew for sure he was alive when a lawyer and friend of the fam­ily was able to see him. Wang’s iso­la­tion has also prompted con­cerns that he has been tor­tured or sub­jected to other forms of ill treat­ment.

A UN rights work­ing group on ar­bi­trary de­ten­tions in Au­gust called on China to re­lease Wang. The UN noted that au­thor­i­ties had vi­o­lated Wang’s right to le­gal coun­sel of his own choos­ing by pres­sur­ing lawyers to drop his case or de­tain­ing them.

Ex­pec­ta­tions for Wang’s ver­dict – to be de­liv­ered at an un­de­ter­mined date – were not op­ti­mistic. Of the nine lawyers or ac­tivists from the 2015 crack­down who have been tried, all have been con­victed. Four have been re­leased on sus­pended sen­tences, on strict pa­role, while the oth­ers are serv­ing prison sen­tences. Wang’s charge car­ries a max­i­mum pun­ish­ment of life im­pris­on­ment.

Last year, Li at­tempted to walk more than 100km from Bei­jing to Tianjin to find her hus­band be­fore she was stopped by po­lice. In De­cem­ber, she shaved her head along with the wives of other lawyers seized in the crack­down in protest of Wang’s treat­ment – us­ing a play on the word wufa, “with­out hair”, which sounds sim­i­lar to “with­out law”. “I can have no hair, but this coun­try can­not be with­out law,” she said. LILY KUO IS THE GUARDIAN’S BEI­JING COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Of the nine lawyers or ac­tivists from the 2015 crack­down, all have been con­victed

THOMAS PETER/REUTERS

Li Wenzu holds a box with a fam­ily pic­ture and her hus­band’s de­ten­tion no­tice

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