The wife of a jailed human rights lawyer has staged a vocal protest outside China's highest court during the Lunar New Year holiday, calling for redress for his incommunicado detention since July 2015.
As the rest of China celebrated the Year of the Pig with their families, Li Wenzu, wife of rights attorney Wang Quanzhang, shouted slogans outside the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the highest state prosecuting body, in Beijing.
"Acquit and release Wang Quanzhang!" Li shouted, with family members of fellow activists and lawyers at her side.
Li plans to return to the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court after the holidays with a lawyer in tow, hoping to reverse the authorities' decision not to allow lawyers hired by her to meet with her husband.
"They may be on holiday right now and there's nobody at work, but we won't stop until the day that Wang Quanzhang comes home," Li told RFA on Wednesday.
"That is why we came here during the [lunar] new year ... We want them to perpetrate fewer miscarriages of justice in 2019, and to acquit Wang Quanzhang, and to release him," she said.
The group were suddenly surrounded by police officers on arrival at the Supreme Procuratorate, however, in spite of the national holiday.
The police ordered them to leave and told them not to film the standoff, briefly detaining four Hong Kong journalists to check their press credentials, according to Liu Ermin, wife of detained rights activist Zhai Yanmin.
"Five or six police officers demanded to see their press credentials ... but they kept on asking them questions after they had seen their card," Liu said. "They didn't let them go for more than half an hour ... but they didn't take them away."
"I think they thought it wouldn't look very good, and that there'd be too much of a fallout from it," she said.
An official who answered the phone at the Haidian district police department on Wednesday said enquiries should be directed elsewhere.
"You need to ask the foreign propaganda department," the official said.
Calls to the foreign propaganda department rang unanswered, however.
Fourth year apart
On Monday night, as families across China tucked into the main festive meal of the Lunar New Year holiday, Li and her supporters held a Lunar New Year vigil outside the Tianjin detention center where Wang is being held.
She said it is the the fourth Lunar New Year that she has now spent apart from her husband.
Meanwhile, six bar associations and lawyers' groups around the world have repeated calls for Wang's release.
“Mr. Wang’s case is an outrageous example of violation of almost every aspect of the rule of law," Jacqueline Scott, director general of the International Association of Lawyers’ Institute for the Rule of Law, told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post in comments retweeted by the group's Twitter account.
Geneva Bar Association president Lionel Halpérin condemned the verdict “in the strongest possible terms” and called for Wang’s immediate release, the paper said.
“I am no expert in Chinese law, but Monday’s verdict falls short of any basic legal standard and practice, notwithstanding international human rights standards,” Halpérin was quoted as saying.
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.
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.
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.
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 cited "reports" that Wang was tortured with electric shocks during interrogations.
The authorities also denied him access to lawyers of his own choice and cut off all communication with his family, it said in a recent statement.
Reported by Jia Ao for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.