Friday, July 15, 2016

Tom Phillips - 'Freed' Chinese human rights activist Zhao Wei still missing

The mystery surrounding the fate of a young Chinese activist entangled in a major human rights crackdown has grown after her husband was unable to locate her despite police claims she had been freed from detention. Zhao Wei, a 24-year-old legal assistant, was taken into secret detention in July 2015 at the start of a government offensive against human rights lawyers.

On 7 July this year police said Zhao, an employee of the prominent human rights lawyer Li Heping, who was also detained last year but remains in custody, had been released on bail as a result of her “confession” to unnamed offences. Speaking to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post this week from an unknown location Zhao claimed she had returned to her family home in Henan province and “was staying with her parents”.


However, when Zhao’s husband visited that home in the city of Jiyuan this week he found the two-storey building deserted.  “The doors and windows were all closed,” You Minglei told the Guardian on Friday. “I knocked for quite some time but there was nobody there.” A neighbour said the family had not been home for “a while”. While at the address, You said he had seen a vehicle with a Beijing number plate parked nearby as well as a surveillance camera that had been positioned at the entrance to the narrow street. You voiced doubts over the “interview” that his wife – who he met while she was a student activist – had given to the South China Morning Post in which she claimed she regretted her civil rights work.

“I have come to realise that I have taken the wrong path,” the newspaper, which did not say how the interview was set up or conducted, quoted Zhao as saying. “I repent for what I did. I’m now a brand new person.” You said: “I believe that Zhao Wei does not have a mobile phone or a computer with her and she would not have the contact number for the South China Morning Post.” “I think somebody asked her to do this and to say those things. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense,” he added. “I still believe the government is controlling everything behind the scenes.” William Nee, a Hong Kong-based activist for Amnesty International who is tracking the case, said it was hard to be certain what had happened to Zhao Wei. However, Nee said authorities appeared to be “using many of the same abusive tactics that they have used in other cases in order to silence [critics] such as releasing people into fake freedom ... [and] harassing and controlling family members.”

Nee said he was unconvinced by Zhao’s online posts on Weibo, China’s Twitter, in which she claimed to regret her actions.  “It seems highly likely that her Weibo comments are either being written under coercion or are scripted by the authorities. To some extent, this is the social media version of the notorious forced TV confession,” he said. 

Public security authorities have not responded to inquiries about Zhao Wei’s whereabouts. Calls to Zhao’s mother’s phone went unanswered on Friday. 


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