Lawyer Wang Quanzhang, 42, has been sentenced to over four years’ imprisonment following a secret trial held in the city of Tianjin, to the protests of the Chinese rights community and his wife Li Wenzu.
From Shandong Province in northern China, Wang became famous for his unyielding and indiscriminate defense of China’s most disenfranchised groups. He was apprehended in the July 2015 mass arrests of Chinese rights lawyers, an incident often referred to as the “709” crackdown.
Wang was one of the first human rights lawyers to take up cases involving practitioners of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual discipline with tens of millions of adherents that was banned by the communist Chinese authorities in 1999.
Practitioners of Falun Gong follow traditional moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Wang had taken an interest in what was happening to Falun Gong since the beginning of the persecution, when he was still in law school, according to the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG).
Wang offered legal aid to Falun Gong practitioners and other victims of repression by the Chinese regime, including petitioners whose land had been seized by developers, prisoners abused in labor camps, and those mistreated by the police.
Defending Falun Gong carried inherently greater risks than those associated with ordinary rights cases since it was a political campaign launched for ideological reasons. Wang Quanzhang, Gao Zhisheng, and other human rights lawyers who represented Falun Gong practitioners have themselves been harassed, imprisoned, and tortured.
Prior to his detention, Wang traveled across China taking Falun Gong cases, from Heilongjiang on the Sino-Russian border in the northeast, to Xinjiang, the Muslim autonomous region that makes up northwestern China.
His activities made him a target of the Party authorities. In 2008, Wang had his home ransacked and his possessions seized by agents of the Ministry of State Security. In 2013, he was given a 10-day detention in Jiangsu Province, eastern China, for “severely disrupting order in court” while representing a Falun Gong case. A joint protest by 100 fellow lawyers led to his release after three days in custody, according to the CHRLCG.
In March 2014, while working to support other lawyers in the Jiansanjiang case in Heilongjiang, Wang was beaten by the police and forced to sign guarantee documents. In June 2015, Wang entered court in Liaocheng, Shandong Province, to defend a group of Falun Gong practitioners there, but he was beaten and injured by seven bailiffs, who also tore his clothing. His defenses were repeatedly interrupted by the prosecution, as reported by Minghui.org, a website documenting the repression of Falun Gong.
The next month, Wang was detained in the “709” crackdown of Chinese human rights lawyers. He was charged with “subversion of state power” in 2017.
Despite the repeated insistence of CCP leaders that the country must be run according to law, the severity of human rights abuses and religious persecution have only increased in the last two decades. The tightening restrictions come as the Party attempts to reinforce its political power and socialist ideology as its rule is plagued by an economic downturn, social unrest, and an intense behind-the-scenes factional struggle within the regime itself.
Li Wenzu, Wang Quanzhang’s wife, has spoken out repeatedly to protest the authorities’ treatment of her husband. Last April, she attempted to leave her home in Beijing to join other dissidents in a march on Tianjin, where Wang is incarcerated, but plainclothes police stopped her, as she reported in comments translated by a human rights website China Change.
“If you dare to come out, we’ll kill you; do you not believe it?” an officer threatened her.
“I believe it, I very much believe it, because you’re all hooligans and scoundrels; I know that you’re capable of anything,” Li responded.