Yu Wensheng is a well-known and outspoken Chinese human rights lawyer and has often been actively involved in politically sensitive cases against the government. His clients have included other human rights lawyers, such as Wang Quanzhang. Yu Wensheng is also known for his participation in the 2016 lawsuit over air quality and pollution against the Beijing city government.
Yu Wensheng was first detained in 2015 for voicing his support for Hong Kong’s Yellow Umbrella Movement. In 2017, Yu circulated an open letter in which he criticized President Xi Jinping’s rule, claiming China was “marching backwards” under Xi. Yu Wensheng further called for far reaching changes to China’s political system, including holding multi-party elections, as well improving legal equality and the rule of law. Following this letter, his license to practice law was revoked in January 2018, and he was seized by a large police force on 19 January 2018 while taking his son to school. Yu was first held in Beijing, but later transported to Xuzhou where he was not allowed to see his family or his lawyers on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power” and “obstructing officials in the course of their duties”, for which he was formally arrested by Xuzhou police on 19 April 2018. The day before his arrest, he had allegedly dismissed his lawyers, who were replaced by state-sponsored attorneys. His wife was allowed one video call with him on 19 April 2018, in which he seemed to have lost weight, and was unable to give a clear answer as to whether he had actually dismissed his attorneys. He has not been allowed any visits by independent attorneys during his imprisonment.
During his imprisonment, Yu Wensheng received the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law for 2018, which was accepted by his wife Xu Yan at the German embassy in Beijing.
After being held without trial for more than 500 days, he was given a secret, closed door trial on 9 May 2019, contrary to Chinese procedural law. On 11 May 2019, his wife released a statement in which she claims that neither she nor Yu Wensheng’s lawyers nor anyone else had been informed about the trial, or when it would take place, until suddenly an unknown person came to her house and simply informed her that Yu Wensheng’s case had been put to trial. Yu Wensheng was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment and deprivation of political rights for 3 years, his wife Xu Yan confirmed after receiving a message from the Procuratorate on 17 June 2020.
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