Radio Free Asia
■ Chinese authorities in the northern port city of Tianjin said on Thursday they have released a legal assistant detained in last year’s nationwide crackdown on rights lawyers, after unconfirmed reports that she was sexually assaulted in custody.
Zhao Wei, 24, who is also known by her online nickname Kaola, was working as an assistant to top Beijing rights lawyer Li Heping at the time of her detention that started when several employees of the Fengrui law firm were detained on the night of July 9, 2015.
“After an application made by Zhao Wei herself, the public security authorities have agreed to allow her release on bail,” the Tianjin municipal police department said in a post to its official account on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo on Thursday.
|The defense attorney for jailed rights lawyer Li Heping
discovered he was relieved of duty when he visited his client
in detention, Feb. 18, 2016. Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.
“This is due to Zhao Wei’s good attitude and to her confessing to the fact that she had broken the law,” it said.
Zhao was held for nearly a year in the police-run Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center, where she was being held on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.”
She apparently sent a message via social media confirming her release, and thanking her friends, family and supporters.
“Feels great to breathe free air and feel the afternoon sunshine,” Zhao tweeted to her account on Sina Weibo following her release on bail, which in China usually carries a slew of police restrictions.
“I am just fine. The same old Kaola you remember,” she wrote.
No comment on abuse reports
Her release follows widespread concern after unconfirmed reports that she was sexually abused in detention.
However, Zhao made no comment on those reports, instead thanking her relatives, supporters, and the many regular police officers who worked on her case.
“I would like to thank countless helpful and sincere uniformed police officers who worked on my case,” she wrote, omitting any mention of detention center guards or plainclothes state security police.
“Right now, I just want peace and quiet, and to enjoy quality time with my elderly parents,” Zhao wrote.
But her tweet immediately aroused suspicions that it was dictated, or even directly sent, by police.
“Do we thank people like the state security police?” rights lawyer Wang Fu commented on social media. “Did they write this tweet themselves?”
Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said Zhao is very likely to remain under restrictions agreed as a precondition of her release.
“It’s quite common for them to let some people out, but to force them to keep quiet,” he said.
“I think people also maybe suspect that the Tianjin police only [let her out] because she had been abused in detention,” Liu said.
Zhao’s defense lawyer Ren Quanping, who hasn’t been allowed to meet with her since her detention, said she hasn’t committed any crime.
“I suspect that only her mother is being allowed to see her right now; she went to Tianjin a few days ago, and was incommunicado,” Ren said.
“My guess is that she has been released, but it’s not really freedom if they won’t allow her to have any contact with the outside world,” he said.
Zhao’s husband You Minglei has said he believes she has been sexually abused or mistreated to some degree while in detention, but he doesn’t know the exact circumstances.
He told The Guardian newspaper on Thursday: “I am quite happy with the news but releasing her on bail doesn’t mean the case has been closed.”
Rights groups hit out at the crackdown on China’s embattled legal profession, which comes amid a broader clampdown on rights activists and non-government organizations (NGOs) campaigning for social justice.
“The crackdown against human rights lawyers is part of a calculated operation by the Chinese government to suppress civil society,” London-based Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday.
“New or proposed laws give the authorities unchecked powers to target individuals and organizations that are seen to criticize the government and its policies,” the group said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.