By James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Four days after the release on bail of a young Chinese activist after more than a year in detention, she still has not been seen publicly, her lawyer has been arrested and her husband doubts that she is the one behind posts on her social media.
Zhao Wei, a legal assistant for the prominent detained lawyer Li Heping, was herself detained last July on subversion charges but released on bail on Thursday given what police in the city of Tianjin described as her good behaviour and confessing to the charges leveled against her.
Since her release, the only people who are believed to have seen Zhao are her mother and father, because Zhao posted a message about celebrating her mother’s birthday with them.
Neither Zhao nor her parents were reachable.
But she has been active on social media, posting a series of messages that her supporters say have raised more questions than answers.
In one post on her Weibo page, she thanked police for treating her well. In another, she accused her former employer, Li Heping, of having “concealed information from her” and that she was “so naive” to trust and work for him.
The Tianjin police gave no immediate response when asked by Reuters to clarify Zhao’s situation.
Those who knew Zhao have expressed surprise at her attacks given her strong advocacy of rights causes. She also accused her lawyer, Ren Quanniu, of spreading rumors of purported sexual abuse she suffered while in detention.
“I don’t think it’s her who posted on Weibo,” Zhao’s husband, You Minglei, told Reuters by telephone. “The posts are very suspicious.”
You said he did not believe anyone apart from her parents had seen Zhao.
Police arrested her lawyer, Ren, in Zhengzhou on Friday, in Henan province, and charged him with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
Authorities in Zhengzhou could not be reached for comment about Ren’s detention.
A group of more than 100 rights lawyers in China have since launched an online petition condemning the arrest and calling for Ren’s release.
“Ren was doing his job to find out the truth of Zhao’s arrest but was rejected many times when requesting to see Zhao in person,” You said.
China’s leadership has overseen a sweeping crackdown on activists since President Xi Jinping took power, including detaining dozens of rights lawyers in what the government says is the targeting of crime.
Beijing has repeatedly said, in relation to the detained lawyers, that those who break the law will be punished and that people’s rights are guaranteed.
Asked on Monday about renewed concern from the U.S. State Department on the detained lawyers, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang denounced the United States, saying it would “fail in trying to use the co-called human rights to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
Even when released on bail, under China’s Criminal Procedure law, individuals are subject to monitoring, summons, restriction of movement and other conditions.
“We don’t know if she is completely brainwashed, or her name is simply being used. We haven’t seen her and we can’t check,” said another source who was once in close touch with Zhao, requesting anonymity for fear of repercussions.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)