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Jailed Chinese rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong disappeared after scheduled release, say activists

A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer went missing after he was scheduled to be released from jail Thursday following a two-year prison sentence for state subversion charges, said rights activists.

Jiang Tianyong — who had taken on many high-profile cases including those of Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan protesters — was one of more than 200 lawyers and activists detained since 2015 in a sweep aimed at courtroom critics of Communist authorities.

Jiang Tianyong

Jiang Tianyong appears in court. File photo: Screenshot.

Supporters of Jiang, who travelled to the No.2 Henan prison where Jiang was held, told AFP that police outside the jail said the 47-year-old lawyer was “taken away” but did not specify by whom.

“Police officers drove away people who went near the entrance of the prison,” said Yuan Shanshan, the wife of human rights lawyer Xie Yanyi, who was also targeted in what is now known as the “709” crackdown because arrests started on July 9, 2015.

Jiang’s sister and father had planned to meet him outside the jail, explained his wife, but both have gone missing as well and have been unreachable since Wednesday night.

“I am angry at the authorities — China’s law is just trash,” Jin Bianling, who is based in the US, told AFP.

Authorities said that he would be free after his release from jail, which was a lie, she added.

“I was hoping and waiting for Jiang’s release from prison,” she said. “I didn’t expect him to go missing after serving his sentence.”

Jiang Tianyong

Jiang Tianyong in his ‘confession’ video. Photo: CCTV screenshot.

Authorities could not be immediately reached for comment.

 Ongoing restrictions 

The disappearance of Jiang, who was charged with “inciting subversion” in 2017, comes as China continues to clamp down on human rights activists and lawyers in the country.

Last month, Wang Quanzhang, another well-known Chinese lawyer swept up in the 709 crackdown, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for “subverting state power”.

Meanwhile, other rights lawyers who have been released after serving their prison sentences — like Jiang — have continued to face restrictions, said Doriane Lau, China researcher at Amnesty International.

“The Chinese authorities had no intention to really protect Jiang Tianyong’s freedom,” Lau told AFP.

The disappearance of Jiang’s father and sister is not unusual either, she said. Chinese authorities will often threaten an activist’s “family and friends before they were sentenced, during the person’s sentencing, and after they are released.”

Nevertheless, many of the wives of the “709” lawyers have actively campaigned on the behalf of their husbands, despite facing pressure from authorities.

Li Wenzu

Li Wenzu. Photo: Li Wenzu, via Twitter.

Last April, Li Wenzu, the wife of Wang, attempted to march 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the detention facility in Tianjin where her husband had been held.

In December, Li was placed under de facto house arrest the day before Wang’s trial to prevent her from attending.

Jailed Chinese rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong disappeared after scheduled release, say activists