Wang Quanzhang: China releases jailed human rights lawyer

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Activists hold a placard of detained Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang at a rally outside Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on December 26, 2018Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Activists have tirelessly campaigned for Wang Quanzhang's release

A leading Chinese human rights lawyer sentenced to more than four years in jail for subversion has been released.

However, Wang Quanzhang has not been allowed to be reunited with his family at their home in the capital, Beijing.

Instead he has been escorted to the city of Jinan, 250 miles (400km) away in Shandong province, his wife Li Wenzu says.

She said he had been told to spend 14 days in quarantine as a precaution against the coronavirus.

Ms Li said she feared her husband would be placed under de-facto house arrest and put under surveillance.

Mr Wang was detained along with more than 200 others in a notorious crackdown on Chinese activists in 2015.

He had defended political campaigners and victims of land seizures, as well as followers of the banned spiritual Falun Gong movement.

For more than three years, Mr Wang's family did not know whether he was dead or alive. He was finally put on trial early last year and sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

"I think (authorities) have been lying to us step by step," Ms Li told AFP news agency.

"They used the pretext of the epidemic as an excuse to quarantine him for 14 days when he should have been able to return to his home in Beijing according to the relevant legal guidelines."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Li Wenzu keeps a family picture and her husband's detention notice

Chinese authorities have not commented on the lawyer's release.

"I am really worried they plan on putting him under long-term house arrest and will prevent us from being reunited as a family," said Ms Li, who has long campaigned for her husband's freedom.

"His speech is being restricted. He phoned me yesterday saying he would go to Jinan. Is this what a rational person would do after being separated from their wife and child for almost five years?"

Media caption,

Mr Wang's wife and her friends shave their heads to protest against his detention

After his arrest, Mr Wang was found guilty of subverting state power by a court in Tianjin. The trial was conducted behind closed doors with journalists and foreign diplomats barred from the courthouse. Ms Li, who was also banned from attending, shaved her head in protest against his detention.

Rights groups condemned the trial with Amnesty International calling it a "sham" and the verdict "a gross injustice".

On Sunday, the European Union welcomed Mr Wang's release as a "positive development", but said reports of his mistreatment while in detention must be investigated.

"The European Union expects that Mr Wang's release will be unconditional, with particular regard to his freedom of movement and to establish residence, including the possibility to reunite with his family," it said in a statement.