The wife and son of the Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang were finally allowed to see him on Friday – for the first time since he was detained four years ago under a sweeping crackdown.
Li Wenzu, who was finally allowed into the prison’s reception area at 2pm, walked out an hour later in tears, although their six-year-old son Wang Guangwei rejoiced in the fact that he had finally seen his father after a four-year separation.
“He is a totally changed man … he was so agitated and anxious that I couldn’t even talk to him just then,” Li said.
“His head was clean-shaven, he had lost about 30 pounds (13.5kg), his skin was darkened and his memory was hazy. He had a list of written things to tell us, saying he had been treated well, but he couldn’t even recall what he had for lunch today,” she added.
Wang was among hundreds of human rights lawyers and legal activists rounded up by Beijing during the so-called 709 crackdown in 2015 – the event took its name from the date on which it started, July 9 – and was the last of them to be tried.
In the four years since his detention, Li has fought for justice for her husband, whom she had never been allowed to see until Friday.
She has filed lawsuits against the police and judicial authorities, and in April last year, she and a group of other 709 wives took part in a 100km (60 mile) march from Beijing to Tianjin – where Wang, now 43, had been detained before he was tried and moved to a prison in Shandong province – to raise awareness of his plight.
Many of the lawyers and activists who have since been freed said they experienced physical and mental torture while in detention. These reports, and the fact that Wang has been isolated from his family and lawyers for so long, have raised serious concerns about his well being.
It was only on Thursday morning that Li heard from the Shandong provincial authorities over the telephone that she would be allowed a 30-minute visit at Linyi city’s prison.
She arrived at the prison on Friday with her husband’s sister Wang Quanxiu on a drizzly afternoon. There was a heavy presence of unidentified personnel wearing plain clothes outside the building, a group of whom roughed up a journalist who was at the scene.
“When I first laid eyes on [him], he turned his head away for a second and looked very dull. My first words to him were: ‘Hubby, long time no see’,” Li said.
“I told him gently: ‘We love you’ and he responded in a robotic tone, saying ‘I love you too’.”
“He just kept on repeating how he feared for my safety and our son’s schooling,” Li said. “I am very concerned about his state of mind.”
She said she was “heartbroken” by his condition.
“He feared for our safety and told us not to visit him anymore...When the meeting was almost over, he just stood up and left and didn’t even look back,” Li said.
His son described him as being in low spirits when he saw him in Linyi prison. “I was very excited to see him, but he just sat there looking dispirited,” said the boy.
The 34-year-old Li made the 600km journey from Beijing to Linyi on Thursday along with her son and friend Wang Qiaoling – the wife of another 709 lawyer, Li Heping.
The group was closely watched by a handful of security agents when they reached their hotel, where Wang’s sister later joined them.
Liu Ermin, the wife of another 709 victim, had planned to travel with them but was prevented from doing so by domestic security officials, Li said.
Wang had said in a letter to his sister dated May 23 that he was looking forward to being reunited with his family and hoped to be released next spring.
The lawyer said also he had been suffering from high blood pressure and increased sugar levels, which required daily monitoring.
Although he was detained in 2015 and charged with subversion of state power the following year, Wang, who specialised in defending political campaigners and victims of “land grabs”, was only found guilty in January of this year and sentenced to four and a half years in prison.
In May he was transferred from the detention facility in Tianjin to prison in Linyi.
The month before Wang was tried, Li and three other 709 wives shaved their heads and tried to submit a petition to a Beijing court in protest against his indefinite detention. Li was prevented from attending the trial.
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