In China, a March to Find Her Husband

Li Wenzu yelled to onlookers from the balcony of her Beijing home, where on Wednesday she was briefly put under house arrest along with her 5-year-old son: “My husband is a lawyer. In normal times, he helps ordinary people go to court. Now [he] has been held for over 1,000 days. [I] don’t know if he’s alive or dead. I went to find my husband – what have I done wrong?”

In August 2015, Beijing police detained Li Wenzu’s husband, rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, amid a national crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists. Wang, later charged without basis for “subversion of state power,” has not been heard from since. Fears for his well-being deepened after he was reportedly tortured with electric shocks.

On April 4, the 999th day of Wang’s enforced disappearance, Li embarked on a 100-kilometer march from Beijing to the northeastern port city of Tianjin, where she believes her husband is being held. But authorities intercepted her and returned her to Beijing. Dozens of unidentified people blocked and even beat up friends who tried to visit her.

Li’s experience brings to mind that of Liu Xia, widow of dissident Liu Xiaobo. Ever since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010, Liu Xia has been held under arbitrary house arrest. Stripped of communication with the outside world, she suffered from severe depression in isolation. Even after his death in July 2017, Liu Xia remains imprisoned in her home.

Li has suffered countless episodes of intimidation and harassment while fighting for justice for her husband. Yet she and other families of the lawyers and activists detained during the crackdown have proved to be tenacious activists. Often wearing a shirt with Wang’s name or picture on it, Li regularly visits the court to file missing person reports and travels to the detention center, demanding to see her husband. Video clips of her fearlessly arguing with police officers and security agents have been uploaded on Twitter and disseminated by her supporters.

After one day “under siege” – Li’s own words – she and her son were allowed to leave their home. Li’s determination to find justice for her husband is unlikely to be diminished by this experience, and authorities would be wise to do the right thing and release Wang.