Interview: 'They Are Still Restricting My Freedom,' Says Lawyer Wang Quanzhang


2020-04-24
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wangquanzhang.jpg Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang on a laptop screen in Beijing as he speaks via video link from his home in Jinan, in China's eastern Shandong province, April 23, 2020.
AFP

Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was released from Shandong's Linyi Prison at the end of a four-and-a-half year jail term handed down on Jan. 28, 2019 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. Since his release on April 5, Wang has been told not to go back to join his wife and son at the family's Beijing home. He spoke to RFA reporter Gao Feng about life on the outside:

RFA: Are you under house arrest?

Wang Quanzhang: I have been demanding all along to be allowed to be reunited with my wife and child in Beijing, but they are still restricting my freedom. They have removed the quarantine arrangements and there aren't security guards at the bottom of the building any more. I can leave the residential compound, and I can meet with my family, lawyer and friends. But they are still following me around, in a vague sort of way. For example, the security guards from the residential compound tend to follow me from a distance, and they will probably be reporting back [to police]. They told me I can go anywhere else [in China] except for Beijing. I told them that I need to go to Beijing first and foremost, to be with my wife and child. The excuse they used to start off with was quarantine, but now that's ended, they're saying it's because of the annual parliamentary sessions [scheduled in March but postponed and likely cancelled due to the pandemic].

RFA: Were you inhumanely treated during your five-year incarceration?

Wang Quanzhang: Lots of people have asked me that question. I'm not sure how to answer it in an objective, scientific manner. I am going to do my best [at some point]. Nonetheless, as you know, certain people will be poring over every word I utter, looking for gaps and weaknesses in my story. They have been doing that with something I said while I was making a case before the judge since I was detained in 2015, and looking for weaknesses. So I have to be very careful what I say. I hope you understand.

RFA: Rights lawyer Xie Yang described you as the only lawyer detained in the crackdown beginning in July 2015 not to plead guilty or make a confession.

Wang Quanzhang: That's because they couldn't make these charges stand up from any angle, not legally, not factually. Two points in the indictment have already been addressed. In the years since, they have tried to say that these were criminal acts. But the problem is that not a single other person involved faced any kind of criminal process for their actions. So it's pretty ridiculous. How could they ask me to plead guilty? How could I plead guilty? The charge of incitement to subvert, according to their understanding, rested on two criticisms or verbal attacks I made on the government, in a bunch of posts I made on Weibo that they had collected. They realized that there wasn't any attack on the government, so then they started casting around for evidence of subversion in my actions. Then they got into difficulty, because there was nothing in law forbidding any of my actions. They discovered that I had committed no crime.

[The indictment against Wang based the subversion charge on two areas of his work for the now-shuttered Beijing Fengrui law firm, and on work with the NGO China Action.]

RFA: Your wife, Li Wenzu, seems to see things differently. She recently tweeted that you weren't the Wang Quanzhang she once knew.

Wang Quanzhang: Things are complicated. It's hard to say for sure. My wife didn't really understand everything I did in the past. It was only after I was detained, beaten and had other things happen to me that she found out about those things, that I was working as a human rights attorney, and she was very scared by that. But I didn't really understand who my wife was until after I was detained, and after I got out. A lot of things have changed during this whole saga. She has fought tirelessly on my behalf, and put up with so much suffering and hardship. But I have a more in-depth knowledge of such matters due to my long years of work in the judicial system. So there are a few things on which I don't see eye-to-eye with my wife. But I don't want to make these things too public.

RFA: What's it like being back in the world outside prison again? Do you have any plans for the future?

Wang Quanzhang: I've been in excellent spirits since I got out. After all, I was isolated and deprived of my freedom for five years. It has been very relaxing to have contact with the natural world again since getting out. There is nothing on paper preventing me from going to Beijing; they conveyed this to me verbally. The authorities interpret the law to serve their own interests, to turn it to their own profit. I think they are breaking it. I hope that more professionals will come forward to promote [the law].

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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