The wife of a detained Chinese lawyer on Wednesday set off on a march of more than 100km from Beijing to Tianjin, where she believes her husband is being held incommunicado, in a bid to force authorities to explain his arrest.
Lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), who took on sensitive cases of police torture complaints and defended practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, went missing in August 2015 during a sweeping crackdown on rights activists.
His wife, Li Wenzu (李文足), has since heard little about her husband’s fate although authorities told her lawyer he had been detained.
Neither Li nor the lawyer has been allowed to see him.
“We are walking to seek an answer from the Chinese legal system. Is China really a country with rule of law?” Li said outside a Chinese Supreme People’s Court complaints office.
“Over the last 999 days, we have tried every possible legal means to find out what has happened to him, but there has been no result,” she said.
The Chinese Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Justice did not reply to faxed requests for comment.
On July 9, 2015, authorities launched what rights groups say was a coordinated attempt to quash China’s rights movement, in what became known as the “709” crackdown, after the date on which it happened.
At the time, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Daily, described some of the prominent detainees as “a major criminal gang that has seriously damaged social order.”
Nearly three years on, most of those detained are in prison or under house arrest. Many of them made public confessions and were sentenced in what their families say were either secret or scripted trials.
Wang’s case is unusual in that no word of his fate has been released.
Li has become an energetic activist. With support from other families affected by the crackdown, she regularly visits the courts to file missing person reports.
She said she expects it will take her 12 days to walk to Tianjin, over the 1,000-day anniversary of her husband’s disappearance.
She is being accompanied by Wang Qiaoling (王峭嶺), wife of another prominent rights lawyer, Li Heping (李和平). He was handed a three-year suspended sentence for subversion in April last year.
Li said the authorities have kept her under surveillance and she had to keep her plan to walk secret.
“I didn’t send anything publicly, otherwise they would have known and stopped me,” Li said.
Despite restrictions, Li and the other wives have become effective advocates for both their husbands and human rights lawyers in general, said William Nee (倪偉平), a Hong Kong-based researcher at Amnesty International China.
“They are in a very tough situation, but the fact that the government has put so many resources into monitoring and surveilling her suggests they are very concerned about the power she represents,” he said.
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