China forced human rights lawyer into quarantine after releasing him from jail

After being imprisoned by the Chinese government for almost five years, Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang finally left Lin-Yi prison in Shandong province on Sunday morning. However, instead of reuniting with his wife and son in Beijing, he was immediately sent to Jinan City for a mandatory quarantine.

According to his wife Li Wen-Zu, Wang informed her about the plan to undergo a 2-week quarantine on Saturday morning on a phone call, explaining that it is a mandatory requirement due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, Li said Wang already had five nucleic acid tests for coronavirus before he left the prison, and his results were all negative, which should have proven that he is healthy.

Before he left the prison, authorities told Wang he must be escorted to his destination by staff from the prison, and they would only be willing to send him to Jinan but not Beijing. “Instead of giving him two options, the Chinese government forced him to agree to go to Jinan,” Li said.

A winding path to “freedom”

On Sunday morning, Li Wen-Zu shared on her Twitter that she had received a phone call from Wang Quanzhang, telling her that he left the prison at around 5 a.m. in the morning and had been escorted to the couple’s house in Jinan City. According to Li, they originally rented the house out to someone else, but the police had demanded the tenant to leave before Wang arrived.

https://twitter.com/709liwenzu/status/1246629755161423876

Several hours later, Li wrote another update on Twitter, saying even though she was able to deliver some food and a bouquet of flowers to Wang in the early afternoon on Sunday, another friend’s flower delivery was interrupted after the delivery guy was taken to the nearby police station for interrogation.

https://twitter.com/709liwenzu/status/1246734371765153792

Additionally, Wang’s cousin tried to visit him at around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, but he was immediately surrounded by police when he expressed his intention to visit Wang at his quarantine place. His cousin was also taken to the police station for questioning.

https://twitter.com/709liwenzu/status/1246770852508479488

“Wang’s cousin told the police that he hadn’t seen Quanzhang for years and he wanted to see him briefly,” Li wrote on Twitter. “But the police told him that ‘you are not allowed to meet him and you better not try to sneak in, or else you will be detained.’”

The delivery guy and Wang’s cousin were not the only ones who were harassed by the police when they tried to interact with him. Wang’s older sister, who originally planned to pick up Wang outside the prison on Sunday, was put under house arrest by local police on Saturday, causing her to lose the chance to meet Wang outside the prison.

https://twitter.com/709liwenzu/status/1246262755557904384

The EU demanded the unconditional release of Wang

On Sunday, the EU issued a statement about Wang’s release, calling on China to release Wang unconditionally while ensuring that he maintains his freedom of movement and his rights to reunite with his family.

“The European Union considers that his rights under China’s legislation and international commitments were not respected during trial and detention,” the EU wrote in the statement. “Reports about Mr Wang being subject to serious mistreatment and torture must be thoroughly investigated.”

Jerome Cohen, an expert in Chinese law at the New York University School of Law, wrote about the Chinese government’s recent tendency of using “Non-Release Release” (NRR) to suppress human rights lawyers and activists.

According to Cohen, while there is a long tradition of exercising NRR, the Chinese government started to customize the method to “suit its needs for effectively suppressing human rights lawyers on a more individualized basis than a formal system might allow, and also for a longer time than formal criminal or administrative sanctions might seem suitable.”

“To the public, NRR looks better than sentencing a lawyer to life in prison, but it can nevertheless amount to a more discreet form of stifling someone forever,” Cohen wrote.

Preventing Wang Quanzhang from returning to the normal way of life

Hsieh Yen-Yi is another Chinese human rights lawyer who were imprisoned by the Chinese government following the “709 Crackdown” in 2015. Hsieh thinks that the Chinese government’s decision to force Wang Quanzhang to undergo quarantine in Jinan may have violated their own regulation about quarantine amid the coronavirus outbreak.

According to Hsieh, Wang should be able to return to Beijing and undergo the 2-week quarantine at home with his wife and son. “The reason why the Chinese government needs to marginalize Wang under the name of combating coronavirus is because they are afraid that Wang would unveil his torturing experience in the prison,” said Hsieh.

Hsieh, who was detained at the same prison as Wang, said he and other human rights lawyers underwent all kinds of physical and mental tortures, which include being forcefully fed drugs, being beaten, being locked up in rooms without sunlight for six months and being put under forced interrogation.

“I was between life and death the entire time when I was imprisoned,” said Hsieh. “I also heard some detained lawyers were electrocuted, and I think Wang was definitely one of them.”

Due to all the torments that he went through, Hsieh needed a long time to recover from the traumatic experiences. He thinks that Wang Quanzhang not only underwent all the same torments, but he was even tortured by more extreme measures.

“I think Wang will share all of his experiences with the world one day, but I also think that’s exactly why the Chinese government wanted to sentence him to four years and eight months in prison,” said Hsieh.

Hsieh thinks some members of the Chinese government don’t want to let Wang Quanzhang reunite with his family, and they also don’t want him to ever regain his freedom of expression. “They are afraid that Wang would share everything inhumane that he had seen or experienced in the prison with the world, so they don’t want to make it easy for Wang to reconnect with society,” Hsieh explained. “These people had not only kidnapped the Chinese society, but they had also kidnapped the entire government. They don’t want China to go on the normal path of statehood.”

Since Wang still needs to spend another 13 days in Jinan, Li said the Chinese government is using a pretentious excuse to put him under house arrest. She hopes the Chinese government would live up to their promises and let Wang be free from any kind of restrictions after the two-week quarantine is over.

“I can only believe that they will set him free after 14 days, but if they don’t let him reunite with me and my son after two weeks, I will start to sue the government and keep protesting until he is truly free,” said Li.

This article was first published in Mandarin on DW.

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William Yang

William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.