China has arbitrarily detained human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang for over 1,000 days without trial. Mr. Wang, who defended political activists and members of religious minority communities, including members of Falun Gong and victims of land seizures, disappeared in 2015 along with many lawyers and activists in China who stood up for the rights of ordinary people in court.
Wang, who was eventually charged with “subversion of state power,” has not been heard from since his arrest. Fears for his well-being deepened after he was reportedly tortured with electric shocks.
Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, has worked tirelessly to seek justice for her husband. On April 4, the 999th day of Wang’s enforced disappearance, Human Rights Watch reported that Li attempted to walk 100-kilometers from Beijing to the city of Tianjin, where Li believes her husband is being held. However, Chinese authorities reportedly picked up Li and returned her to Beijing before she reached Tianjin. According to Human Rights Watch, ”dozens of unidentified people blocked and even beat up friends who tried to visit her after her return.”
Mr. Wang was arrested as part the so-called “709 crackdown.” Beginning in July 2015, Chinese police rounded up and interrogated about 300 rights lawyers, legal assistants, and activists across the country.
While most of them have since been released, dozens, including prominent lawyers Xie Yang and Li Heping, were convicted of various crimes and sentenced to up to eight years in prison.
Arbitrary arrests have continued. In January, Yu Wensheng, one of China’s most outspoken human rights lawyers and legal counsel for Wang, was detained by police near his Beijing home. Patrick Poon of Amnesty International said he suspected the detention of Yu was retaliation for a recent article attacking the party’s top leadership: “The message is clear,” he said, “don’t ever criticize state leaders. . .or you will end up in jail.”
In addition, civil rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who defended activists such as dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng, was sentenced to two years in prison in November 2017.
U.S State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, in a tweet on April 11, called “on China to release Wang and all those detained during the ‘709’ arrests, including Jiang Tianyong and Yu Wensheng.”