Wife, children of jailed dissident poet under close surveillance during congress

Wang Li says she is ‘on the edge of a breakdown’ after being threatened by officials, followed by security guards.
By Gu Ting for RFA Mandarin
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Wife, children of jailed dissident poet under close surveillance during congress Wang Li, wife of jailed dissident poet Wang Zang, says she and her children [shown] are under 24-hour surveillance by men who follow her wherever she goes.
Credit: Courtesy of volunteers/reporter Gu Ting

Chinese police in the southwestern province of Yunnan have slapped a gag order, travel ban and round-the-clock surveillance on the wife and children of jailed dissident poet Wang Zang as part of a nationwide “stability maintenance” operation during the National People's Congress in Beijing, Radio Free Asia has learned.

Wang's wife Wang Li, who was sentenced alongside her husband for subversion in December 2021, but who was released after serving a shorter jail term, said she and her family are currently under round-the-clock surveillance by a 24-person security detail, who follow her wherever she goes, including to buy groceries and take the couple's children to school.

“To start with, there were 12 people ... working four shifts, with three people per shift,” Wang, who expressed concerns for her mental health, told RFA on Monday.

“They were changing shifts as I was taking my kids to school in the morning [last week], and I took some video and posted it online,” she said. “On the third morning, they increased the numbers from 12 to 24, with six guards working each shift.”

Chinese security personnel in Chuxiong municipality, Yunnan province, China, follow Wang Li, the wife of jailed dissident poet Wang Zang, last week. Credit: @0530Wlq Twitter

The ongoing surveillance of Wang Li and the couple's children despite her release from prison at the end of her shorter sentence comes amid a nationwide mobilization of law enforcement agencies as part of China’s “stability maintenance” program, which aims to nip any form of public protest or criticism of the government in the bud during key political events or political sensitive dates in the calendar.

Wang Zang and Wang Li were both jailed behind closed doors by the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate People's Court, which found them guilty of “incitement to subvert state power” after they gave interviews to foreign media organizations.

Followed everywhere

Wang Li said she had gotten a visit on Sunday from the deputy mayor of her hometown of Donggua and the head of the township judicial affairs bureau, who warned her not to leave the general area of Chuxiong municipality, and put pressure on her to take down the video clip she had posted earlier.

“They told me that the consequences of doing stuff like that would be very bad indeed,” Wang said. “[They said] it wouldn't do me, my family or my kids any good at all.”

“I feel like I'm under a lot of pressure right now,” she said.

“They follow me wherever I go, just tag along wherever,” Wang said. “If I go to the bathroom, they wait for me outside the women's toilets.”

“Whenever I come out of a shop, one of them goes inside that shop -- I don’t know what they’re doing,” she said. “I’m really on the edge of a breakdown.”

One of Wang Li’s guards declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Monday.

“You’ve got the wrong number,” the guard said. “Wrong number.”

Further calls to the same number rang unanswered after that.

Repeated calls to local state security police officer He Guoqing rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

A call to the deputy mayor of Donggua township was answered, but nobody spoke.

Wang Li and her husband, jailed poet Wang Zang, are seen in an undated photo. Credit: @0530Wlq Twitter

Wang Zang and Wang Li previously lived at Beijing’s Songzhuang artists’ village, and had been targeted with repeated forced evictions for showing online support for the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Wang Li had several episodes of mental illness as a result of the evictions, including a spell in a psychiatric hospital and reported suicidal thoughts, friends told RFA at the time.

Beijing-based housing rights activist Ni Yulan said Wang Li has been left providing and caring for four children while Wang Zang is in prison.

“The fact that they resorted to threats to get Wang Li to delete video showing her current situation shows that they are the culpable ones,” Ni said.

“What is their ulterior motive here?”

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Matt Reed.


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