Several months after her bail status was officially lifted, top Chinese rights attorney Wang Yu and her family remain under tight restriction, unable to seek employment and banned from traveling overseas, RFA has learned.
Wang, one of the first and most prominent of hundreds of human rights lawyers and associates swept up by Chinese authorities in a crackdown that started in July 2015, was "released" on bail alongside her husband and colleague Bao Longjun after being held for more than a year on subversion charges.
But the family have been held under tight surveillance at an apartment chosen by state security police, cut off from friends and family, and the couple's son Bao Zhuoxuan, has developed depression after being prevented from going overseas to study, as previously planned.
According to rights activist and family friend Ye Jingchun, Wang still holds a valid license to practise law.
"Normally, if she wanted to practise general law, then she could probably transfer to a different law firm and start working normally again, but Wang's case is somewhat different," Ye said.
"All of the firms she has contacted have said it would be 'difficult' for them to hire her, because the judicial authorities have already been in touch to warn them off hiring Wang Yu," she said.
Ye said Wang hasn't worked in two years, while Bao has also been stalled in his progress through the "articles" stage of his professional training.
"I don't feel optimistic, because they are going to do everything they can to put obstacles in her way," she said. "They are probably going to hold her to impossible conditions that she won't be able to stick to."
"I don't believe the government has truly allowed her her freedom," she said.
Ye said the family is currently relying on her elderly parents for food and is wearing hand-me-downs to try to make ends meet.
Still being targeted
Fellow rights lawyer Ma Lianshun said many of those detained in the July 2015 crackdown are still being targeted for persecution by the authorities, including the loss of their license to practise law.
"All we can do is lodge a complaint; what else is to be done?" Ma said. "We're not going to start brandishing guns and knives."
Ma said he is currently forced to work on cases with no human rights component to earn his living.
"There are strict controls on what type of cases I am allowed to take on in future," Ma said. "I can't do anything that is complicated or politically sensitive."
"This is how they control the legal profession; they are preventing us from speaking out."
Calls to Bao Longjun's cell phone rang unanswered on Monday.
Bao's former defense attorney Huang Hanzhong said the situation looks unlikely to improve in the absence of judicial independence in China.
"Everyone in the judiciary is focused on a single value, and that value is the interests of the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party, not the rule of law," Huang said.
"Bao Longjun and Wang Yu are going to try using every possible channel, including a lawsuit at the Supreme People's Court ... and complaints against high-ranking party law enforcement officials, ... to boost the profile of their case," he said.
He said the travel ban on Bao Zhuoxuan is a typical example of "guilt by association" currently practised on the family members of legal detainees and other critics of the regime.
"This is a classic case of guilt-by-association, which is strictly not permitted under Chinese law; it's unacceptable," Huang said. "As an adult citizen, Bao Zhuoxuan should enjoy the freedom to go overseas for tourism purposes, and also to pursue his studies."
"Any attempt to prevent this is a violation of his rights as a citizen," he said.
He said Bao Zhuoxuan had recently been diagnosed with depression by a private doctor.
"It might not be very severe right now, but who knows what will happen if things carry on like this?" Huang said.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.