For the first time in four years, the wife of rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was allowed to visit her husband, who is serving a 4-and-a-half-year sentence in a jail in east China's Shandong province.
Wang's wife Li Wenzu, their six-year-old son and his elder sister visited with the lawyer Friday afternoon. Li has long expressed worries about Wang's deteriorating health.
After the cell visit, which lasted half an hour, Li told reporters that Wang exhibited "a change in his personality and looked agitated, thin and weak," according to a news report onhk01.com.tw
Li expressed concern over the possibility of Wang being brainwashed, the report added.
"[I] finally saw him today. But I felt he was in a terrible mental condition, unlike what I have imagined. It was hard to communicate with him normally. He seemed impatient and, in particular, worried about my safety," Li told Radio Free Asia.
Wang claimed that he's been well treated in the prison but asked his family not to come visit over the next two months for the sake of their own safety.
In particular, he asked his wife not to give police any attitude, the report said.
Prior to the visit, Wang Qiaoling, the wife of rights lawyer Li Heping, posted a short video clip on her Twitter account, which showed a cameraman being beaten by a large group of plain-clothed police outside the jail. Wang said in the post the cameraman was attacked because he was filming Li.
Security outside the jail was also tight, with guards at the entrance once threatening to call off Li's visit because she arrived at the gate ahead of time.
Before Friday's meeting, Wang was last seen in a pre-recorded video clip, released in May, in which his wife described him as skinny, pale and lifeless with a slow reaction. That, Li said, reminded her of lawyer Li, whose mental health his wife suspected to seemingly have been damaged by alleged torture and unknown medication he was given while in detention.
"My heart is bleeding and I am crying my heart out," Li said at that time.
In late January, a court in Tianjin of northeastern China ruled Wang guilty of subverting state power and deprived him of his political rights for five years in addition to a four-and-a-half-year jail term.
While a rights lawyer, the 43-year-old attorney defended political activists, victims of land seizures and members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement.
He was one of more than 200 people swept in the so-called "709 crackdown" of rights lawyers and activists in 2015.
He spent the following three years in detention, and was denied access to Li and the lawyers she had obtained for him, until his closed-door trial in December of last year.
Li has actively and openly protested her husband's detention in defiance of Chinese authorities. She once marched 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Beijing to the detention center in Tianjin where Wang was held. In addition, she and three other women shaved their heads as part of a public demonstration. Li was barred from attending her husband's trial by Chinese security officers who would not allow her to leave her home in Beijing.
Feeling the pain
Wang and his family's suffering has struck a chord with other family members of detained rights lawyers, who have been through similar predicaments.
"Wang hasn't been seen [publicly] in four years. How has he been abused or physically tortured? It's hard for us to imagine. Is he still in his normal state of mind? We don't know. I fully understand what Wenzu has been through," Jin Bianling, wife of rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, told VOA.
Jin has lived in the United States with her daughter since 2013 to avoid Chinese government harassment.
Meanwhile, Jin said that secret police have barred her husband, who was released from his two-year jail term in March, from seeing a doctor for his swollen feet.
She accused state police of disallowing her husband to seek proper medical treatment.
According to Jin, Jiang has been living with his parents in Henan province since his release from a two-year jail term.
State police are refusing to let him go to the doctor unaccompanied.
Fear that he was could once again be the victim of forced disappearance, Jiang finally agreed to be driven to the hospital by state police in the company of another lawyer, Xie Yang, on Wednesday.
He was given a full physical checkup, which showed only that his level of uric acid was too high. The doctor provided no explanations about his swollen feet, and did not prescribe any medication, Jin said.
She suspected that the doctor was under pressure to not disclose Jiang's real health condition.
Jin said that Jiang, who should have been set free after having served his time, still remains in house arrest.
"More than 20 people [secret police] keep an eye on him and follow him along whenever he goes out. They even tag along with his parents on their way out. At times when they came at a close distance with Jiang, they would try to provoke him into physical conflict so that they have an excuse to arrest him again," Jin said.
Jin expects a similar fate for Wang, who is slated to be released in 2021.