CHRD urges the EU and EU member states to speak out for Yu Wensheng and Xu YanComments Off on CHRD urges the EU and EU member states to speak out for Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan
CHRD calls on the Chinese government to immediately release human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and his wife Xu Yan, who have been criminally detained and denied access to lawyers of their choice. CHRD also calls on the Chinese government to end its de facto house arrest of Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan’s 18-year-old son. CHRD urges the EU, EU member states, the US, UN bodies, and other member of the international community to forcefully condemn the Chinese government’s detention of Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan.
On April 13 at approximately 4:00 pm, human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and his wife Xu Yan left their home in Beijing to travel by subway to attend an event at the European Delegation. They were invited to an event with the EU’s Ambassador to China Jorge Toledo Albiñana and an unnamed senior EU official, according to Politico.
However, Yu and Xu were prevented from accessing the subway by four plainclothes police officers. One of the officers, a state security police officer, told them that they were being summoned to a police station, which Yu Wensheng announced on Twitter. The four police officers took them to the Shijingshan Bajiao police station.
The EU Delegation to China tweeted on April 13, “We demand their immediate, unconditional release. We have lodged a protest with MFA [China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs] against this unacceptable treatment.”
According to Rights and Livelihood Watch, on April 15 in the evening, approximately seven police officers came to Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan’s home, and they orally read a criminal detention notice to the couple’s son, who had just turned 18 years old. The pair were criminally detained on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Police would not allow the son to take photos, nor would they give him the criminal detention notice. Also, even though no warrant was presented, police proceeded to search the home and carried off many items.
On April 16, two lawyers, Song Yusheng and Peng Jian, paid a visit to Yu and Xu’s son to bring him fruit, and fill out paperwork to obtain legal status to represent Yu and Xu. There were two people guarding the door of Yu and Xu’s home. Lawyer Song knocked on the door, and it was answered by the son, but the lawyer saw that in the home there were also two officers inside, one plainclothes and one wearing a uniform. The plainclothes officer, who said his name was Lu Kai, asked what they wanted. The lawyers said that they were there to visit the son and have him sign an agreement (委托书) to entrust them as lawyers. However, the plainclothes police officers said that Yu Wensheng told them that he “doesn’t want to have lawyers at this stage” and that Xu Yan had already found two lawyers.
Yu Wensheng’s detention may also be related to his condemnation of the sentencing of Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, two prominent pro-democracy figures. On April 12, Yu Wensheng wrote on Twitter that he had been visited at his home by Shijingshan police for a tweet he had sent out on April 9 that said, “[I] strongly condemn the Chinese authorities heavy sentence of scholar Xu Zhiyong to 14 years and of Lawyer Ding Jiaxi to 12 years! I pay my respects to Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, who have worked hard in the struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. I believe that one day the Dream of a Beautiful China will be realized.”
In March 2022, Yu Wensheng was released from prison after serving four years and three months on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Yu was taken away by police in 2018 the day after he released an open letterrecommending changes to China’s Constitution, including a call for elections and the creation of an oversight system for the Chinese Communist Party.
Emblematic of several worrying trends
Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan’s case epitomizes several concerning behaviors by the Chinese authorities:
The Chinese government has detained human rights defenders to prevent them from attending events convened by the EU Delegation. On December 10, 2021 Tang Jitian was set to attend a “Human Rights Day” event in Beijing organized by the European Union. However, he was subsequently arbitrarily detained and deprived of his liberty for nearly 400 days. Earlier in June 2021, Chinese authorities prevented Tang from leaving the country to reunite with his daughter who had tuberculosis and was seriously ill in Japan.
The Chinese government has put heightened pressure on human rights award winners. Yu Wensheng was therecipient of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award in 2021 and the winner of the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law in 2018. Previous winners of awards have been subjected to extra-legal abuse. While Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo was at one point granted “medical parole,” he was not allowed the freedom of movement to seek medical treatment outside of China and died in de facto state custody. Likewise, Hu Jia, a prominent human rights defender and winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2008, was prevented from seeing his dying father in his final days. Hu Jia was deprived of his liberty and “forcibly traveled” starting from March 4 of this year. Being “traveled” is a common tactic used by state security officers to ensure journalists at the annual March Two Sessions meetings or other “sensitive” political events do not talk to dissidents. Hu Jia’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer on March 9, 2023.
The Chinese government is preventing defendants in sensitive cases from having lawyers of their own choice and instead mandating government-approved lawyers in order to prevent real legal defense. On February 10, 2023, digital rights activist Ruan Xiaohuan was sentenced to seven years in prison on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” His wife, Ms. Bei, wanted to hire an experienced lawyer for the appeals stage, and so she went to Beijing to talk with Shang Baojun. However, upon landing in Beijing, she was taken away by eight Shanghai police. Meanwhile lawyer Shang Baojun tried to visit Ruan at the Yangpu Detention Center in Shanghai, but staff there would not allow for the visit since they claimed that Ruan already had two legal aid lawyers.
Yu Wensheng has previously experienced these same kinds of games to undermine the possibility of effective legal counsel. During his previous detention, Yu’s lawyers, Chang Boyang and Xie Yang, went to Tongshan District Public Security Bureau in Xuzhou and requested to meet with Yu on April 18, 2018. 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.
International community must speak out
“The fact that Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan were detained right before heading out to attend an EU event is a direct challenge to the EU’s credibility regarding human rights. Particularly in light of the current debates within the EU on China strategy, the EU and all EU member states, including and especially France and Germany, must speak out forcefully for Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan,” said William Nee, CHRD’s Research and Advocacy Coordinator.