Released from prison after almost five years of detention, Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang is still unable to be reunited with his family, his wife Li Wenzu confirmed.

Wang, 44, was escorted by police from prison in Linyi, Shandong province to a property in his hometown of Jinan on Sunday morning, Li said.

"I think [authorities] have been lying to us step by step," Li told AFP from Beijing, where she lives with the couple's young son.

"They used the pretext of the epidemic as an excuse to quarantine him in Jinan for 14 days when he should have been able to return to his home in Beijing according to the relevant legal guidelines."

Wang was detained by Chinese authorities in 2015 as part of sweeping nationwide arrests on over 200 legal advocates and Communist Party critics, nicknamed the "709" crackdown.

Li and other human rights observers are worried that Wang will still face serious restrictions to his personal liberties including surveillance, despite being nominally released from prison.

"I am really worried that they plan on putting him under long-term house arrest in Jinan, and prevent us from being reunited as a family," said Li, who has tirelessly campaigned for her husband's release since his detention.

Li added that, prior to Wang's release, police had forcibly evicted tenants from his property in Jinan who had been renting out the place since 2018.

Li believes that Wang had been forced by authorities to return to Jinan, and is "very worried" about his health since he is living alone there without a caretaker.

"His speech is being restricted. He phoned me yesterday saying that he would go to Jinan," she said.

Li Wenzu shaved her head in 2018 in protest at the jailing of her husband Wang Quanzhang during the 709 crackdown
Li Wenzu shaved her head in 2018 in protest at the jailing of her husband Wang Quanzhang during the 709 crackdown AFP / FRED DUFOUR

"Is this what a rational person would do after being separated from their wife and child for almost five years?"

Wang was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison in January for "subverting state power" following a closed-door trial.

A prominent lawyer who defended political activists and victims of land seizures, Wang was held incommunicado for over 1,000 days without access to his family or a lawyer prior to his trial.

His wife was finally granted a visit to him in Linyi prison in June, after authorities repeatedly denied her requests.

"My husband's health has deteriorated during the long incarceration, he had lost so much weight," Li told AFP at the time.

The couple's seven-year-old son, Wang Guangwei, was a toddler when his father disappeared.

Li said that she is still waiting on further news from Wang, who promised to buy a phone and contact her later after the couple had a brief call in the morning.

"I'm so worried that all I can do is wait," she said.

Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on civil society since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, tightening restrictions on freedom of speech and detaining hundreds of activists and lawyers.