The wife of jailed human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was allowed her first visit with her husband in four years, says he is unrecognizable as the man who was detained during a nationwide crackdown on the legal profession launched in July 2015.
Wang's wife Li Wenzu visited her husband in Linyi Prison in the eastern province of Shandong on Friday, the first time she has laid eyes on him since his initial disappearance in 2015.
Li, who also took along the couple's six-year-old son Wang Guangwei and Wang's sister Wang Quanxiu, met with her husband after years of campaigning at around 2.00 p.m. local time on Friday for around half an hour.
She emerged deeply concerned about his mental health and general well-being.
"I finally saw him today, but I think his mental state is very poor," Li said. "It wasn't at all how I imagined it would be."
"His head is shaven, and he is definitely much thinner," she said. "He looks a lot older too, and his skin is much darker."
The couple was unable to speak privately, as prison guards and officials were present all the time, one of them shooting video of the visit, Li said.
'I couldn't talk to him normally'
But the most disturbing part of the visit was the marked deterioration in Wang's cognitive abilities, Li said.
"There's no way to communicate normally with him," Li told RFA. "He is extremely impatient, and very worried about my safety. He kept asking about our son's education."
"He always used to be a very gentle and sweet-tempered person...but today he got really impatient with anything I said," she said. "It's so obvious that he's in a very bad way; he's not behaving normally--I couldn't talk to him normally."
Li said Wang's memory appears to have declined sharply.
"He was afraid he would forget what he wanted to say to me, so he had written a list down on a piece of paper," she said.
"I asked him 'what did you eat for lunch?' and he had to think about it for a long time, and he got more and more anxious about it, and started tapping his own head," she said. "I am so sad and upset right now."
She said Wang had told her that his life inside was fine, and that she shouldn't come back for two months, owing to "safety concerns."
Police beat cameraman
Li and her companions were intercepted by unidentified men on their way to the prison on Friday, who blocked their filming of the approach to the prison with umbrellas, fellow activist Wang Qiaoling told RFA.
"There were more than 100 plainclothes police, all of whom had umbrellas, and they followed the journalists who were filming Li Wenzu, and used their umbrellas to block the camera lenses," Wang Qiaoling said. "They also treated some of the journalists very rudely...and beat a [Japanese] cameraman who was following along."
"There were two government service vehicles there too, probably disrupting the WeChat [social media] signal," she said. "There was inference with our signal."
The cameraman was shoved to the ground and his belongings snatched away from him, before being chased away from the area, she said.
Li has repeatedly demanded a meeting with authorities at Linyi Prison since Wang was transferred there following his trial, and has been regularly shouting her husband's name from outside the prison walls since being told all visits were canceled due to the remodeling of the visitor facility.
Repeated calls to Linyi Prison rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
Wang recently began serving a four-and-a-half year jail term handed down on Jan. 28 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 for more than three years with no access to a lawyer or family visits.
Rights groups say there are concerns that Wang may have been subjected to torture, forced medication or other mistreatment in detention, as he was detained incommunicado for such a long period of time, and that this may be the reason behind officials' insistence on secrecy.
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.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.