Taiwan Rights Groups Call on Beijing to Allow Visits to Jailed Rights Lawyer

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Li Wenzu, wife of jailed Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, speaks in a video statement played at a press conference on the democratic island of Taiwan, April 30, 2019.
Li Wenzu, wife of jailed Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, speaks in a video statement played at a press conference on the democratic island of Taiwan, April 30, 2019.
Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

Rights activists and politicians in Taiwan have called on authorities in China to allow jailed rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang visits from his family and his lawyer, warning that his case should act as a "big red flag" to the people of Taiwan.

Wang's wife Li Wenzu, speaking in a video statement played at a press conference on the democratic island, said her husband has been incommunicado for years, amid fears of torture and other mistreatment at the hands of Chinese authorities.

"It has been more than two years since Wang Quanzhang's case went to court, and yet the people in charge of the case daren't even let me visit him," Li said. "We can't even locate the people in charge of his case."

"We have no idea what situation or state Wang Quanzhang is in," she said. "There has been no news of him at all."

"I am extremely worried about what has become of Wang Quanzhang," she said. "The things I  worry most about are whether he is alive, whether he is in good health."

Rights groups say there are concerns that Wang may have been subjected to torture or other mistreatment in detention, as he was detained incommunicado for such a long period of time, and that this may be the reason behind officials' insistence on secrecy.

During that time, the authorities failed to provide a proper account of Wang’s prolonged detention to the public, including Wang’s family and family-appointed defense lawyers, they say.

Wang was handed a four-and-a-half year jail term on Jan. 28 by the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, which found him guilty of "subversion of state power."

The verdict and sentence followed repeated delays, resulting in Wang being held in pretrial detention for more than three years with no access to a lawyer or family visits.

Later, activists said they were later told that the case been erased from the computer system of a higher court ahead of his appeal at the Tianjin Higher People's Court.

Huge blow to public interest law

The trial was held on Dec. 26 behind closed doors, with officials claiming that state secrets were involved in the case.

The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network has cited reports that Wang was tortured with electric shocks during interrogations.

I-Min Hsiao, executive secretary of Taiwan's Judicial Reform Foundation, said that the Chinese government crackdown on the country's human rights lawyers begun in July 2015 was a huge blow to public interest law.

"This attack has laid waste to all those young, public interest lawyers who put all that effort into their training because they wanted to give something back to society," Hsiao said. "[The case of Wang Quanzhang] is emblematic of those lawyers who refuse to cave in to the Chinese regime."

"He has insisted all along on his innocence."

Eeling Chiu, head of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, said Wang had committed no crime under Chinese law.

"Wang was practising law according to Chinese law, acting as defense attorney for others," Chiu said. "Such actions don't constitute 'subversion of state power.'"

"We have a lot of respect and admiration for Li Wenzu ... who has persevered on her husband's behalf, fighting for his rights and defending human rights," she said.

Yu Mei-nu, a lawmaker for Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said Taiwanese people should take heed of the way China treats its lawyers.

"The biggest difference between China and Taiwan is that Taiwan has a way of life that includes freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights," Yu said. "If Taiwan wants to hold onto that way of life, cases such as Wang Quanzhang's should serve as a huge red flag."

'One country, two systems' unpopular

Thousands of people took to the streets of Taiwan last month in protest at China's proposal to govern the democratic island under the "one country, two systems" framework applied to Hong Kong.

In a Jan. 2 speech,  Chinese President Xi Jinping insisted that Taiwan must be "unified" with China, and refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island.

Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen replied at the time that Taiwan's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty, and that China should first move towards a democratic system.

DPP lawmaker Tuan Yi-kang agreed, citing China's growing influence and political control in the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau.

He said that plans to amend Hong Kong's extradition law to allow renditions to China on a case-by-case basis would affect anyone who traveled to the city who is regarded as a dissident by Beijing.

"Do the people of Taiwan realize that, if Hong Kong passes the amendments to the extradition laws, any Taiwan person who travels to Hong Kong could be arrested and handed over to the Chinese authorities to face trial in China ... for any reason, not just political, but also maybe for tax issues or trivial reasons, even without knowing the charges against them," Tuan said.

A recent opinion poll found that more than 80 percent of Taiwanese would reject Xi's offer to rule the island via the "one country, two systems" model used for the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau.

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.

The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

But many fear that Taiwan could see the loss of its existing freedoms, should it fail to curb Beijing's growing influence on the island, often wielded via close business ties across the Taiwan Strait.

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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