Yu Wensheng 余文生

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Yu Wensheng  余文生

Yu Wensheng  余文生

Criminal charges: Inciting subversion of state power

Length of Punishment: 4 years imprisonment and 3 years of deprivation of political rights

Court: Xuzhou City Intermediate People’s Court, Jiangsu Province

Trial Date: May 9, 2019

Sentencing Date: June 17, 2020

Dates of Detention/Arrest: January 19, 2018 (detained); January 20, 2018 (criminal detention); April 19, 2018 (formal arrest)

Place of Incarceration: Shijingshan Detention Center (Beijing Municipality); Xuzhou City Detention Center (Jiangsu Province) (January 2018-present)


Police seized lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) outside his Beijing home on January 19, 2018, as he was taking his son to school. Yu reportedly was forced into a police vehicle after an altercation between him and at least one officer. State media outlets put out a heavily edited video after lawyer Yu was detained, and claimed Yu had attacked police who were trying to take him in for questioning. Yu was initially held on suspicion of “obstructing official duties” and detained at Shijingshan Detention Center. The day before police seized him, Yu had released an open letter recommending changes to China’s Constitution, including a call for fair elections and the creation of an oversight system for the Chinese Communist Party, among other reforms. Yu Wensheng has been deprived of any visits with a lawyer of his or his family’s choosing during his entire detention, and there have been ongoing concerns that Yu has been mistreated in custody.

In the days just before his detention, Yu was the victim of several retaliatory acts by authorities. He was denied permission to set up a law firm and banned from travelling overseas on “national security” grounds. In addition, the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau on January 16 de-registered (注销), or temporarily cancelled, Yu’s law license, essentially disbarring him; as justification, officials cited his lack of employment at a law firm over the previous six months. In July 2017, Beijing Daoheng Law Firm had dismissed Yu under pressure from authorities, who had refused to let Yu and the firm’s director, Liang Xiaojun, “pass” the annual license review for lawyers. That particular punishment appeared to be reprisal for Yu’s attempts to visit a client, detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), the longest-held individual in pre-trial detention from the 2015 crackdown on human rights lawyers.

On January 27, police summoned for questioning Xu Yan (许艳), Yu’s wife, who learned that police had added a severe criminal charge against him, “inciting subversion of state power.” By that time, Yu had reportedly been transferred to Xuzhou City Detention Center in Jiangsu, where police said he was under “residential surveillance at a designated location.”

On April 18, 2018, his lawyers, Chang Boyang (常伯阳) and Xie Yang (谢阳), went to Tongshan District Public Security Bureau in Xuzhou and requested to meet with Yu. Authorities denied the request and presented the lawyers with a note dated April 16, apparently written and signed by Yu, expressing his intent to dismiss the two lawyers and requesting his wife not replace them. Any such statement was likely coerced, as it follows the disturbing pattern of detained rights defenders in China being forced to “fire” their lawyers and take on government-assigned ones. Recognizing that he may one day meet the same fate, Yu had taken the initiative before being seized to prepare written and video testimonies stating that he would not voluntarily fire his legal counsel if he were ever detained.

Yu was formally arrested on April 19, 2018, and Xu Yan was granted a video call with him later that day. Afterward, Ms. Xu reported that the lawyer had lost weight and that his hair had grown long and was unkempt. When Xu asked her husband whether he had in fact written the note dismissing his lawyers, Yu was unable to give a clear response. In May, authorities rejected an appeal from Xu Yan to free the lawyer on bail, and police continued to refuse to allow independent lawyers to visit him.

By July 2018, Yu’s case had been recommended by Xuzhou police for indictment. He had reportedly met with state-appointed attorneys, who had also been in contact with Xu Yan, while lawyers Chang and Xie were not being allowed access to Yu or any case materials. In early September, Xuzhou prosecutors sent Yu’s case back to police for further investigation, thus delaying his possible criminal prosecution. In October, police again sent the case to prosecutors, recommending indictment. Prosecutors indicted Yu on February 1, 2019 on the sole charge of “inciting subversion of state power,” dropping the charge of “obstructing official duties.”

Yu Wensheng’s wife Xu Yan released a statement on May 11, 2019, stating she had been informed that her husband had been put on trial in secret on May 9, 2019, though authorities had not informed her, the two lawyers she had hired, nor post a public notice. On June 17, 2020, Xu Yan received a call from the Xuzhou City Procuratorate that Yu Wensheng had been sentenced to four years imprisonment and three years of deprivation of political rights.

On August 14, 2020, Xu Yan tweeted that Yu Wensheng’s lawyer Lu Siwei visited Yu on August 13, the first time Yu was allowed to meet his lawyer since he was first detained on Janaury 19, 2018. The lawyer found that Yu’s teeth had serious problems and his right hand kept trembling and could not write. On October 13, 2020, Yu Wensheng’s another lawyer Lin Qilei and lawyer Lu Siwei visited him again. During the two-hour meeting, in addition to discussing the arrangement for his appeal, the lawyers found that Yu’s health condition deteriorated as he has not been exposed to sunlight and there is no hot water in the detention center in the evenings. Yu has kept coughing for over 20 days. They also found that Yu’s right front tooth dropped out and his left front tooth is loose and he has difficulty chewing food. Yu has repeatedly requested for dental treatment but the officers in the detention center rejected his requests. As Yu’s body became stiff when being forced to sit on a stool, he protested and refused to sit on a stool. As a punishment, the officers in the detention center took away his books two months ago, depriving his right to reading.

In August 2020, seven UN independent human rights experts wrote to the Chinese government about Yu’s ongoing arbitrary detention and expressed concern about the 4-year sentence against him handed down in a secret trial in June 2020.

Born in Beijing on November 11, 1967, Yu Wensheng has represented victims of the Chinese government’s assault on civil liberties, including petitioners, activists, and his fellow rights lawyers. Yu has also been an advocate for change in multiple areas of Chinese society; for example, he was among a group of lawyers in 2016 to sue the government over air pollution. Before his current detention, Yu had long faced state harassment and intimidation, such as when he was detained for over three months in 2014 after publicly expressing support for Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement.

Further Information

Mandates of Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and 5 UN Special Rapporteurs to Chinese Government on Yu Wensheng’s Case, August 13, 2020

China: Free Arbitrarily Imprisoned Rights Lawyer Yu Wensheng, June 17, 2020, CHRD

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention opinion No. 15/2019 (China) on Yu Wensheng, May 29, 2019

Submission to UN on Yu Wensheng, November 8, 2018, CHRD

Communication on Mr. Yu Wensheng: Mandates of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, March 6, 2018 (response from the Chinese government, March 11, 2018)

China Strips Rights Lawyers’ Licenses in Reprisal Against Their Push for Rule of Law, January 24, 2018, CHRD

Individuals Detained in Mainland China for Supporting Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protests, CHRD

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