Christian human rights lawyer released from Chinese prison after two years in detention

(Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)Policemen stand guard in front of the court building in Beijing January 22, 2014.

A prominent Christian human rights lawyer in China was finally released from prison on Tuesday after being detained for nearly two years, but his time in detention has apparently taken a physical toll on him.

Li Heping, a lawyer known for defending the rights of religious minorities and victims of human rights violations, was reunited with his family and friends on Tuesday after a Chinese court gave him a suspended sentence in a secret trial on April 28.

During his time in prison, the authorities allegedly tortured him using various methods, including electric batons.

Li's wife, Wang Qiaoling, has noted that he has lost some weight and his black hair has turned gray, but she said he is in "fine spirits."

Terry Halliday, the author of a book on China's human rights lawyers, said that he almost did not recognize Li in the photographs that were posted online.

"[He looked] very thin. He's aged about 20 years. His hair has gone grey. He's gone through a torturous time, I would say," he said, according to The Guardian.

"I would defy anybody ... to imagine that so much transformation could have occurred over two years," he added.

The last time he saw Li was a few days before he was detained by the police in the summer of 2015, during the crackdown on human rights lawyers who defended people targeted by the government. The author noted that Li, at the time, was slim "but not emaciated."

"The only thing that I recognised was his smile: that wonderful smile of his that has always been a reflection of his warmth and his kindness," Halliday went on to say.

Li was found guilty of "subversion of state power" and was sentenced to three years in prison with a four-year suspension.

The suspended sentence means that he can be released, but he could be arrested again if he breaks the law during the probation period.

The authorities claim that Li pleaded guilty to using social media and interviews with foreign media to criticize China's political and legal system.

Halliday cautioned against interpreting Li's release as a sign of China's leniency or mercy towards the lawyer who has been held for nearly two years without charge.

Wang, who had fearlessly campaigned for Li's release, said that her husband was "absolutely not free" and could not be interviewed at this time.

"We are now being followed by six or seven tall, burly men. They simply follow us wherever we go," she said.

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