Prominent Chinese rights lawyer Wang Yu, who was 'released' on bail after being held for more than a year on subversion charges, is now under tight surveillance akin to house arrest along with her whole family, her lawyer told RFA.
Concerns are growing for the safety of dozens of human rights lawyers and associates locked up in an unknown location by the Chinese authorities in a crackdown that started in July 2015.
Following a nationwide operation targeting rights lawyers, activists, their families, and employees, at least 19 of the more than 300 detained, questioned, or otherwise affected were held on suspicion of subversion with no access to a lawyer.
Wang Yu and her husband and colleague Bao Longjun were granted bail last month, but the couple has yet to be seen by friends or former colleagues.
According to a lawyer hired by the family, Bao Longjun and Wang Yu have been reunited with their son Bao Zhuoxuan and are currently living in an apartment rented for them by state security police, not far from their parents' homes.
"They are under round-the-clock surveillance by state security police, including when they go out to buy groceries and when they receive permission to visit their parents, when the police go along with them," lawyer Li Yuhan said.
Li said the arrangements were unacceptable.
"She was never guilty of this crime in the first place," he said. "They talk about ruling the country by law, but in reality, they haven't been able to achieve it."
Too much international attention?
He said the ruling Chinese Communist Party likely fears that Wang and her family will attract too much international attention.
"They are trying to cover this up, hoping that over time, interest in this case will wane," Li said. "Then they'll impose much more restrictive measures, when there'll be less of an outcry."
Rights groups say 13 individuals from the “709” crackdown are still being held incommunicado.
But those who were granted 'bail,' including legal assistant Zhao Wei, have also remained under surveillance, and haven't been in touch with their usual social circle since leaving the detention center.
Li said he sees the crackdown on lawyers as part of a wider strategy to eliminate China's nascent civil society.
Observers say Beijing's nationwide "stability maintenance" operations are targeting rights activists, lawyers and non-government groups working to protect the rights of some of the most vulnerable groups in Chinese society.
More than 100 Chinese lawyers wrote to the National People's Congress (NPC) recently to complain about the common harassment and obstruction of defense attorneys by law enforcement agencies and judicial officials.
The letter, signed by prominent attorneys including Ge Yongxiu, Cheng Hai and Liu Shihui, called on the NPC to create a new offense in law, of "impeding the right to a legal defense."
Worsening rights situation
Fellow attorney Ding Xikui said he completely agreed with the suggestion.
"The problem has become extremely serious," Ding said. "The government has already invented a new crime, that of 'disrupting court proceedings,' for lawyers who make a fuss in court."
"They really need to think about this ... because this crimes actually violates the human rights of lawyers when they should be protecting them," Ding said.
"They shouldn't engage in the wholesale persecution of lawyers."
Maya Wang, China researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the government has presided over a worsening human rights situation since President Xi Jinping took power in 2013.
"Detention centers make up all sorts of excuses to prevent lawyers from visiting their clients," Wang said.
"For example, they say that the investigating officer isn't here, or that the detainee has been allocated a different lawyer."
"In doing this, they are breaking their own laws," she said.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Lee Lai for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.