Police in the central Chinese city of Wuhan have allowed the wife of detained veteran activist Qin Yongmin a meeting with her sister and one of Qin’s brothers, after holding her incommunicado for three years.
But rights campaigners say Zhao Suli, who has been charged with no crime, has yet to regain her liberty.
Zhao was detained alongside Qin in January 2015, and both were initially held in unknown locations.
But while Qin has since been tracked down by friends and lawyers to a detention center in the central city of Wuhan, Zhao had been in an unknown location for nearly three years, leading her sisters to fear she may be dead.
On Sunday, Zhao was brought to the offices of the Peace Park in the central city of Wuhan and allowed to spend a few hours with one of her sisters, Zhao Yulin, and Qin Yongchang, one of Qin’s brothers, her son told RFA.
Zhao’s son Tian Siyu said he had also been permitted a brief video call with his mother, and had been told to wait “until after Chinese New Year” next week before they could be reunited.
“I spoke to her,” Tian told RFA on Tuesday. “She said she is fine, and that she’s in Wuhan, and that I can go there after Chinese New Year.”
Tian, who is currently in the eastern province of Anhui, said he would have to travel to Wuhan to see his mother.
“That’s right, I’m in Anhui, and I will go there, that’s what my mom told me via video chat,” he said. “She seemed to be in a good mood [but] she’s gotten thinner.”
Not free yet
Qin, who is being held at the Wuhan No. 2 Detention Center, was originally scheduled to stand trial in December on charges of "incitement to subvert state power," but the date was postponed at the last minute by the authorities, citing "procedural reasons," with no new date set.
Wuhan-based rights activist Xu Qin said Zhao is not free yet, however.
“This has been planned by the Wuhan state security police,” she said. “Zhao Suli was only allowed a brief meeting with her sister that didn’t even last five hours, and then she was once more deprived of her freedom.”
“Now she is being held in her own home,” Xu said.
Xu gave a qualified welcome to the news that Zhao has finally been seen alive and well.
“Of course I am happy about that, because we wouldn’t have this improved result today without the hard work carried out over the past few years by the lawyers hired by Zhao Suli’s family, Qin Yongmin’s defense team, international human rights organizations, media at home and overseas, and ordinary citizens, all of whom have been working very hard to protect Qin Yongmin’s legal rights, resisting all the way,” Xu said.
'A lot of rules'
Xie Dan, a lawyer hired to give advice to Zhao’s family, said he has been unable to get in touch with her directly.
“I get my news of Zhao Suli’s situation off the internet too,” Xie said. “I’m guessing that the Wuhan municipal police have set out a lot of rules for Zhao’s family to follow, because on the occasions when I have spoken to them, they haven’t said very much.”
He said his next step would be seek further instructions from the Zhaos.
A contemporary of exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng, Qin was sentenced to eight years in prison for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and subversion" in the wake of China's Democracy Wall movement in 1981.
He served a further two years' "re-education through labor" in 1993 after he penned a controversial document titled the "Peace Charter."
Qin then served a 12-year jail term for subversion after he helped found the China Democracy Party in 1998 in spite of a ban on opposition political parties.
"Subversion of state power" carries a minimum jail term of 10 years in cases where the person is judged to have played a leading role.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.