Two prominent human rights attorneys detained at the start of a nationwide operation targeting lawyers last year have yet to regain their liberty, despite having been "released" on bail, rights activists said.
Bao Longjun, husband and colleague of rights lawyer Wang Yu, was granted bail on Aug. 5, and was reported by state media to be in good health following a meeting with his wife, who is also reportedly out on bail.
But the couple has yet to be seen by friends or former colleagues, however, and may be being held under some form of soft detention at an unknown location.
Meanwhile, 13 other lawyers and rights activists look set to face further televised "confessions" and show trials in the coming weeks, rights activists said.
"[Wang] has so far not been free to go home or contact supporters, and her whereabouts remain unknown," the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which collates reports from activists inside China, said in a statement on Monday.
"[Bao's] whereabouts remain unknown at this time," it said.
It said the couple were "on bail but not free," and that their treatment followed a similar pattern to that of detained legal assistant Zhao Wei, who was reported as being "released" on July 7, but who also hasn't been seen since.
"[Zhao's] husband and supporters have not been able to contact her since or locate her whereabouts," the group said.
Deprived of liberty
Beijing-based rights lawyer Chen Jiangang agreed.
"The crux of the matter is that they are still deprived of their liberty," Chen said.
"If they are treating Wang Yu in this way, then things will be even tougher for the rest of [the detainees]," he said.
Calls to two cell phones previously registered to Bao rang unanswered on Monday.
However, state media quoted Wang as saying: "We have already met, and he is in very good health."
"The only reason I am still [in this location] is to wait for him, and now our family is reunited," Wang reportedly said.
Bao's bail came a week after Wang's, which in turn followed her televised "confession" to subversion charges against her, and her repudiation of two overseas rights awards, which she wrote were acts of hostility towards the Chinese government.
Activists said such "confessions" are now a common tactic used by police under the administration of President Xi Jinping. Prominent journalist Gao Yu has said that she made a similar televised "confession" after the authorities threatened to retaliate against her son, and later retracted it.
Four rights activists and lawyers were also handed jail terms of up to 7-and-a-half years last week on subversion charges, while 13 more remain in custody.
"The remaining 13 lawyers and rights defenders detained in the 709 crackdown ... will also likely be subjected to the theater of televised forced 'confessions' or 'repentance' media interviews," CHRD warned.
15 in detention
Police detained, interrogated or threatened more than 300 human rights lawyers and activists since the crackdown began with Wang's arrest on the night of July 9, 2015.
Of those, 22 people were eventually arrested, of whom 15 remain in detention, including two who started prison sentences last week.
But those who were released after police interviews still face considerable political pressure and restrictions on their freedoms.
"The mothers, fathers and children are all effectively hostages," Chen said. "It's very hard for people who haven't felt the full impact of the Chinese government dictatorship to imagine what would be like."
"But all of us know what it's like," he said.
CHRD warned that many more trials are likely in the pipeline.
"CHRD is concerned that last week’s charade of justice will escalate in the coming weeks and months when the government puts on trial the remaining 13 lawyers and rights defenders detained in the 709 crackdown," it said.
It said the timing of last week's trials ahead of the G20 summit in the eastern city of Hangzhou in September is intended to send a defiant message to the international community.
"G20 leaders should call on the Chinese government to release all human rights advocates, including lawyers convicted of or facing criminal charges," the group said, calling for those on "bail" to be allowed genuine freedom.
China should also abolish forced "confessions" and "repentance" on state media, and end harassment and intimidation against family members, it said.
In the first trials of the July 9, 2015 crackdown, Christian activist Hu Shigen received the harshest sentence, at 7.5 years, while Wang and Bao's boss at the Beijing Fengrui law firm, Zhou Shifeng, was jailed for seven years.
Zhai Yanmin and Gou Hongguo received three years, suspended for three and four years respectively.
"These convictions make a mockery of justice," CHRD said, adding that all four were denied basic due process rights and the right to a fair trial.
The detainees had been held in secret locations, denied access to lawyers and family, and "subject to immense pressure and likely torture," it said.
In Hong Kong, which has a separate judicial system dating back to British colonial rule pre-1997, lawyers and rights activists marched to Beijing's representative office in the city in protest over last week's subversion trials.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.