Dissident couple stand trial over criticism of Beijing, foreign media interviews

Wang Zang and Wang Li are tried behind closed doors in Yunnan for 'incitement to subvert state power.'
By Gao Feng
2021.12.15
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Dissident couple stand trial over criticism of Beijing, foreign media interviews Dissident poet Wang Zang (R) and his wife Wang Li are shown in an undated photo.
Twitter/Wang Li

A dissident poet and his wife stood trial on Wednesday in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan for "incitement to subvert state power" in connection with his public support for the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, RFA has learned.

The trial of Wang Zang and his wife Wang Li was held behind closed doors at the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate People's Court, Wang Zang's lawyer Zhang Lei confirmed.

"It's under way," Zhang said, but declined to comment further amid a clampdown on lawyers speaking to the media about cases.

Wang Li's lawyer Zhang Tingyuan also declined to comment.

"Today's session is over," Zhang said. "I can't tell you anything more; I hope you understand."

Fellow defense attorney Lu Siwei said Wang Zang and Wang Li had both pleaded not guilty, and their lawyers had put up a defense in court, in a trial that lasted just one day. A verdict and sentence will be announced at a later date.

"Wang Zang is doing okay, because he's fairly young and in good health, but his wife's health is much worse," Lu said. "She should have been put in a [psychiatric] hospital."

"She has depression."

Lu said the case was likely linked to Wang Zang's public support for the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

"[He also] made some criticisms about during the worst part of the pandemic in February and March 2020," he said. "He also wrote poems which the Chinese authorities deemed to contain [political] meanings."

"He also won an award from the Independent Chinese PEN Association, so perhaps that counted as so-called evidence of criminality too," Lu said.

Lu was part of Wang Zang's defense team but wasn't allowed to appear in court because his license to practice law has been revoked.

"There are restrictions on what I can do as a defense attorney," Lu said. "I can't appear in court as his defense lawyer, but I can write a public defense of  him."

Access to donations cut off

Lu said Wang Zang and Wang Li's four young children have been living with their grandmother for the past year under house arrest, with their access to donated funds cut off by the authorities.

"There is a [police] car in their residential compound around the clock, and people watching the corridor [outside their apartment," Lu told RFA. "The worst thing is that gifts and books sent by friends all over the country to the kids have been intercepted by the authorities, who should guarantee the normal delivery of mail."

"This is really pretty evil," he said.

In their application for Wang Zang's indictment, local police cited his recent poetry, essays, interviews with foreign media, and performance art since his last release from prison in 2015.

Wang Zang was initially detained in May 2020, while Wang was taken away on June 27, 2020.

According to notifications of arrest received by the family in September 2020, Wang Zang and Wang Li were formally arrested by the Chuxiong Prefecture Public Security Bureau on July 3 and July 24 that year, respectively, for "incitement to subvert state power."

The charges against Wang Li appear to stem from her speaking out about her husband's arrest via social media and interviews she gave to foreign journalists, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

Wang Li is being held in the Chuxiong Prefecture Detention Center, HRIC said.

Wang Zang was previously a resident of Beijing's Songzhuang artists' village, and has previously been targeted with repeated forced evictions and a jail term for showing online support for the 2014 Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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