Persecuted Wife of Detained Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Receives the Edelstam Prize 2018
The Edelstam Prize 2018 was awarded to Mrs. Li Wenzu from China for outstanding contributions and exceptional courage in standing up for one’s beliefs in the Defence of Human Rights. The prize was awarded during a ceremony at the House of Nobility in Stockholm, Sweden, on November 27, 2018.
Unfortunately, the laureate, Mrs. Li Wenzu, could not travel to Stockholm to receive the prize as she is not allowed to leave the country. Therefore, Mrs. Yuan Weijing, a fellow Chinese human rights activist and wife of exiled lawyer Chen Guangcheng, received the prize on her behalf.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE EDELSTAM PRIZE LAUREATE 2018: LI WENZU
Li Wenzu was born on April 5, 1985, in Badong, Hubei Province, where she completed her secondary school education. At the age of 24, she moved to Beijing to look for work. There she met her husband, and they got married after a year. Her husband, Wang Quanzhang, is a Chinese human rights lawyer, who has defended activists and victims of land seizures, as well as persecuted and who once defended practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Wenzu was content with her life as a housewife until the fateful day when Wang Quanzhang disappeared.
For several days beginning on July 9, 2015, more than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists were detained or questioned in the largest clampdown on the legal profession in recent history known as the “709 Crackdown.” The China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group estimates that 319 lawyers, activists, and people associated with them were interrogated, taken into custody or “disappeared” in the crackdown.
During the initial period of their detention, many of the arrested lawyers and activists were held without contact with the outside world and their families received no information regarding their well-being or whereabouts. The majority of them were subsequently released on bail, while a few have been convicted of various crimes and sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
However, Wang Quanzhang situation is different since no trial dates have been announced. He is therefore the last prisoner in the “709 Crackdown” who is in legal limbo. The Chinese regime has charged him with “subversion of state power,” a catchall “crime,” it has long used to persecute individuals and organizations it deems as a threat to the one-party state it maintains with an iron hand. In fact, the sole objective of Wang Quanzhang and his fellow lawyers has been to defend the disenfranchised and advance the rule of law in China. According to Chinese Human Rights Concern Group, Quanzhang was tortured with electric shocks in detention.
Li Wenzu and Wang Qiaoling (the wife of the human rights lawyer Li Heping) were the first members of what has later become known as the “709 Family,” due to their activities. As front-line human rights defenders, they have actively looked for families of those caught up in the “709 Crackdown,” trying to understand their needs and supporting them in every possible manner. To carry out this work, Li Wenzu and Wang Qiaoling have travelled the length and breadth of their country. On several occasions, they have been arrested at times for visiting “sensitive” family members of other human rights lawyers, and they have managed to mobilize them into action. “This has been a big change. Facing these circumstances alone, we were very afraid. But together we can encourage each other. This has been of great benefit to us,” says Li Wenzu.
Mrs. Li Wenzu has played an outstanding and crucial role in the “709 Family,” in providing creative campaign-ideas and contributing to shaping the group’s characteristic activism. She is the one who holds the group together with her laughter and positive energy.