EU: Demand release of Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan

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EU: Demand release of Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan

On the eve of the EU-China Summit in Beijing on December 7, CHRD calls on visiting EU leaders to publicly call for the immediate release of former human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and his wife, rights defender, Xu Yan. The couple was detained on April 13 while on their way to attend an EU event in Beijing. The detention and subsequent mistreatment of Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan is a direct challenge to the EU’s foreign policy objective of promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. A strong response from the EU is necessary to upholding its own principles. 

“EU leaders have a moral obligation to call for the immediate release of Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan. The reprisals against Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan for their willingness to meet with visiting EU leaders is a not too subtle signal that Chinese authorities have little appetite to discuss rule of law and human rights as part of the agenda in discussions of EU-China relations. A failure to call out human rights defenders persecuted for their contact with the EU contributes to impunity that cuts across all aspects of the relationship. Dropping human rights concerns from the agenda would show moral and strategic shortsightedness,” said William Nee, CHRD’s Research and Advocacy Coordinator. 

The brother of Yu Wensheng was told by police on May 21 that both Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan had been arrested on the charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Another charge of “inciting subversion of state power” was added in May. However, Yu and Xu’s exact legal status is unclear, since Chinese authorities on multiple occasions have refused to allow lawyers to visit Yu and Xu and authorities have refused to provide arrest notices to family members, in violation of Chinese law.

Yu and Xu’s 19-year-old son, Yu Zhenxiang, who was monitored by police at home in the days after his parents’ detention, and now appears to live alone, but under police monitoring. On November 18, he took a dangerous amount of sleeping pills and was hospitalized. CHRD is seriously concerned about his physical and psychological health. 

Yu Wensheng had served four years in prison after he publicly called for changes to China’s Constitution, including a call for fair elections and the creation of an oversight system for the Chinese Communist Party. During his detention and imprisonment from 2018 to 2022, Yu was tortured and denied proper medical care. 

“Without access to lawyers or family members, Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan are at high risk of torture and other ill-treatment. This is particularly concerning since torture is a routine practice in Chinese detention facilities. It will be a stain on the EU’s track record if on this visit they do not take all available measures to secure Yu and Xu’s freedom,” Nee added.

Yu Wensheng was a prominent human rights lawyer in China. He won both the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights the Rule of Law in 2018 and Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2021. He defended fellow detained lawyers in China after the “709” crackdown on human rights lawyers in 2015, in which over 300 human rights lawyers and advocates were targeted by authorities. 

When Yu Wensheng was detained previously, Xu Yan became a vocal and effective advocate for his release and the release of other human rights defenders. Collective punishment of family members of human rights lawyers and defenders has become a routine police tactic in China today.

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