The wife of a jailed human rights lawyer has welcomed in the Year of the Pig camped outside the detention center in northern China, which has denied her permission to visit him since he was taken away by police in August 2015.
Li Wenzu, wife of Wang Quanzhang, shouted slogans outside the Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center on Monday night, as families across China tucked into the main festive meal of the Lunar New Year holiday.
"We're going to spend New Year with you, Quanzhang," Li and several other wives of detained human rights lawyers shouted outside the detention facility, later posting video footage on Twitter of them singing a song about a prisoner of conscience penned by fellow rights lawyer Chang Boyang.
"This is the fourth Lunar New Year that Quanzhang and I have spent apart," Li told RFA on Tuesday. "Our new year's wish is that Quanzhang will come home."
Xu Yan, wife of rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, said she received news of his indictment just before the holiday, which is also referred to as Spring Festival in mainland China.
"I just hope that Yu Wensheng will be able to get by without any major health problems, and without being tortured," Xu said. "I just want him home with me and the kids as soon as possible."
Meanwhile, Jin Bianling, the U.S.-based wife of jailed rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, said she wants him to join her in the U.S.
"I just want Jiang Tianyong to be reunited with me and our daughter; that's my 2019 wish," Jin said. "China should release all of the lawyers detained since July 2015 and all prisoners of conscience."
"I would also like to see China move towards democracy; the sooner the better," she said.
Yuan Shanshan, wife of rights lawyer Xie Yanyi, said the women had arrived outside the detention center at around 3 p.m. on Monday, and didn't leave until after midnight.
"Li Wenzu, her sister-in-law Wang Quanxiu, and other relatives [of detained lawyers] came to wish Wang Quanzhang a happy Lunar New Year from the other side of the high prison walls," Yuan told RFA.
"We want Wang Quanzhang to come home, as he should be able to, and carry on with a normal life," she said.
Li was denied permission to visit her husband, however, although the women were treated with more courtesy by guards, compared with previous visits, according to their Twitter accounts.
Yuan added: "Wang Quanzhang has been held now for more than three years, and we have had no news of his physical condition ... We believe he was subjected to severe torture."
"If we can learn that he is in good health, then there is hope; not just for our family members, but also for China," she said.
‘Trampling of human rights’
This Lunar New Year is the fourth that Wang and Li have spent apart, at a time when most Chinese families go to considerable expense and effort to spend time together.
Yuan said the women plan to continue their protest against China's unjust legal system by offering "New Year greetings" outside the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court and the Supreme People's Court in Beijing.
Wang was handed a four-and-a-half year jail term on Monday by the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, which found him guilty of "subversion of state power."
The verdict and sentence followed repeated delays resulting in Wang being held in pretrial detention of more than three years, with no access to a lawyer or family visits.
Rights lawyer Xie Yanyi said the women aren't only campaigning for the release of individuals, however.
"These wives have witnessed at first-hand the trampling and destruction of human rights and the rule of law following the July 2015 crackdown," Xie said, in a reference to a nationwide police operation targeting more than 300 rights lawyers, law firms and activists for detention, questioning, house arrest and travel bans since July 2015.
"They have matured as a result, and they have kept their consciences and their sense of justice," Xie said. "Li Wenzu and the other women know that their loved ones are innocent."
"They want to get their message out to the rest of the world, to bring justice and the rule of law to this country, so that everyone will enjoy security of their person, dignity and human rights," he said.
Rights groups say there are concerns that Wang may have been subjected to torture or other mistreatment in detention, as he was detained incommunicado for such a long period of time.
During that time, the authorities failed to provide a proper account of Wang’s prolonged detention to the public, including Wang’s family and family-appointed defense lawyers.
The trial was held on Dec. 26 behind closed doors, with officials claiming that state secrets were involved in the case.
The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network cited "reports" that Wang was tortured with electric shocks during interrogations.
The authorities also denied him all access to lawyers of his own choice and cut off all communication with his family, it said in a recent statement.
Reported by Xi Wang for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.