Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin on Monday briefly detained the wife of 'disappeared' rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang and forced her to return to Beijing on day six of her 100-kilometer (60-mile) march in search of her husband.
Li Wenzu, who says she has no idea if Wang is even alive, set out last week to walk with friends and fellow rights activists from Beijing to the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center, where she believes Wang may be being held, although the authorities have never confirmed his location, nor allowed him to meet with a lawyer.
Li said she was taken away on the day that she had planned to visit the Tianjin courts and the No. 2 Detention Center in the hope of finding out any information about his whereabouts or status.
Wang Qiaoling, wife of detained rights lawyer Li Heping, said she and Li were checking out of a guesthouse in Dongmaquan, a suburb of Tianjin, on Monday morning, when more than a dozen police officers suddenly showed up.
"We were in the lobby of the guesthouse in the process of checking out, when seven or eight people suddenly showed up there; I knew something was up as soon as I saw them," she said. "Then another bunch of maybe 50 people came dashing in."
Wang said she recognized two of them as Lu Kai and Li Gu of the Shijingshan state security police bureau in Beijing.
"About four or five of them came over and pushed us out of the lobby, and then pushed me onto a bus."
After a lengthy verbal dispute, the officers put Li and a fellow rights activist aboard two vehicles belonging to the state security police, she said.
Wang, who filmed the incident on her cell phone, said police snatched it away from her.
"While I was shooting it all on my cell phone, two men came over and snatched it from me," she said. "[Then] they just ushered us outside with no explanation ... to where there was a commercial bus."
"The doors opened, and they shoved me onto it. [Li] Wenzu was taken away very quickly," she said.
Wang said she had told the officers that it was illegal for them to force them to return to the capital.
"I told them that there was nothing honorable about what they were doing to us women," she said. "After that, they let me leave."
An officer who answered the phone at the Douzhangzhuang police station on Monday didn't deny the incident.
"She is no longer here with us," the officer said. "China is ruled by law, and police officers certainly don't go around grabbing random people on the street and shoving them in jail."
"But even if I knew [more], I wouldn't be able to tell you. You will have to ask the family if you want to know more."
Meanwhile, Lu Kai of Beijing's Shijingshan police station appeared to deny Wang's account.
"Li Wenzu isn't here with me, and I had nothing to do with her," Lu told RFA on Monday.
Li Wenzu told RFA after her release that she had been taken by state security police to Douzhangzhuang police station in Tianjin's Wuqing district, where they tried to persuade her to give up her march.
"Their aim today was to escort any family members of lawyers detained in the July 2015 crackdown back to Beijing," Li said on Monday. "I told them that they should be dealing with Wang Quanzhang's case according to law."
She said the police had agreed that she could return to Beijing in the company of her companions, instead of under police escort, following a discussion that lasted around half an hour.
Li said she hasn't yet decided whether to complete the march in spite of the police interference.
"I haven't decided that yet," she said. "I will be putting out updates."
Wang was initially detained amid a wave of police raids launched in July 2015 on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power." Lawyers have made some 50 attempts to visit him in detention since then.
His case was passed over to the prosecution last February, but no trial date has been forthcoming.
Wang's wife Li Wenzu has also been targeted for repeated harassment by police, who have forced her to leave rented accommodation several times since his detention, by putting pressure on her landlords.
Wang once worked for the now-shuttered Fengrui law firm, the first target of police raids and detentions in July 2015 that broadened into a nationwide operation targeting more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff and associated rights activists for detention, professional sanctions, house arrest, and travel bans, including for family members.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.