Yu Wensheng detained and charged with “disrupting public service”
On 19 April, Yu Wensheng was formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “obstructing public service”. He had been kept in incommunicado detention since his arrest on 19 January 2018.
Yu Wensheng is a human rights lawyer based in Beijing. He has taken on several cases deemed highly sensitive by the Chinese authorities, most notably that of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang who has been detained for three years.
On 19 April, Yu Wensheng was formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “obstructing public service”. He had been kept in incommunicado detention since his arrest on 19 January 2018. Repeated attempts by his wife, legal counsel, and supporters to visit him in detention have been unsuccessful. On 16 April, police gave the human rights defender’s lawyers a statement signed by Yu Wensheng, which dismissed them from acting as his legal counsel.
Yu Wensheng is a human rights lawyer who works in Beijing. He has legally represented petitioners, civil rights activists, and his fellow human rights lawyers, who have been victims of China’s crackdown on civil liberties. Yu Wensheng has also advocated for change in multiple areas of Chinese society. In 2016, he was one of a small group of lawyers to sue the Chinese government over air pollution in the country. Yu Wensheng’s formal arrest marks the end of his “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL), under terms of which authorities were able to keep Yu Wensheng in detention in an undisclosed location. In issuing a formal arrest document, authorities have also confirmed the location of his ongoing detention as the Xuzhou City Detention Centre.
On 18 April 2018, Yu Wensheng’s lawyers Chang Boyang and Xie Yang travelled to the Tongshan District Public Security Bureau in Xuzhou to request permission to visit Yu Wensheng in detention. Authorities denied their request and presented the lawyers with a note dated 16 April 2018, written and signed by Yu Wensheng, expressing his intention to dismiss his counsel and requesting his wife not to appoint any other lawyers in their place. Chinese authorities have a history of compelling detainees and their families to dismiss independent legal counsel in order to assign government-allied lawyers instead. Prior to his arrest, Yu Wensheng prepared written and video testimony stating that he would not voluntarily dismiss his legal counsel in the event that he should be detained.
On 19 April 2018, Yu Wensheng’s wife, Xu Yan, was granted a video conference with her husband. Xu Yan reported that her husband looked skinny, his hair long and unkempt. When Xu Yan asked the defender whether he had written the note dismissing his lawyers, his answer was unclear.
On 17 April the lawyers of human rights defender, Zhen Jianghua, were also dismissed after having received a notification similar to that which was given to Yu Wensheng’s lawyers. He had also shared with friends and colleagues a written testimony confirming that he would not voluntarily dismiss his lawyers or accept state-appointed lawyers while in detention. Zhen Jianghua, a human rights activist with over 10 years’ experience working in defence of human rights in China. He is the executive director of Human Rights Campaign in China, an organization that campaigns on behalf of arrested human rights defenders and helps the victims of human rights violations to record and publicize their experiences. Zhen Jianghua has been kept in incommunicado detention since he was first arrested him in his home on 2 September 2017. He was formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” on 29 March 2018. Following intense intimidation from the authorities, the human rights defender’s family has been very hesitant to speak out about his case.
Front Line Defenders reiterates its request that the Chinese government immediately release Yu Wensheng and Zhen Jianghua and desist from acting in retaliation of the human rights defenders’ peaceful work in promoting human rights.
On 27 January 2018, the wife of human rights defender Yu Wensheng learned that the defender’s criminal charge has been raised from “obstructing public service” to the much more severe “inciting subversion of state power”. The defender has reportedly been transferred from a detention centre in Beijing to Xuzhou in China’s Jiangsu Province.
Yu Wensheng has been kept incommunicado since his arrest on 19 January 2018. His wife, Xu Yan, and other supporters of his case have made numerous attempts to visit him in detention. On 27 January 2018, Xu Yan was subpoenaed in relation to her husband’s case. She was informed by interrogating officers that her husband’s charge had been changed from “obstructing public service” to the much more severe “inciting subversion of state power”, a charge commonly used against Chinese human rights defenders that frequently carries sentences of two or more years.
During her questioning, Xu Yan also learned that her husband was being transferred from a detention centre near their home in Beijing to “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL) in Xuzhou City, Tongshan District and there is a concern that he may be mistreated in detention. Mistreatment and torture are rampant under China’s RSDL system, and human rights defender Zhang Kun reported having been subjected to cruel treatment by Tongshan detention authorities during periods of detention in 2013 and 2017. That Yu Wensheng is truly being held in Tongshan is not absolutely certain: Chinese authorities have given false information about detainees’ whereabouts in the past, and Yu Wensheng’s lawyers have not been allowed to visit the defender at any point since his arrest.
Front Line Defenders reiterates its request that the Chinese government immediately release Yu Wensheng and desist from its retaliatory actions against the defender’s peaceful work promoting human rights.
On 19 January 2018, human rights defender and lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) was detained by several police officers as he accompanied his son to school. On 20 January 2018, Yu Wensheng’s wife received official notice that he is being held under criminal detention on the charge of “disrupting public service” at Shijingshan District Detention Centre. The defender has not had access to legal counsel or been able to communicate with his family since being detained.
On 18 January 2018, Yu Wensheng published an open letter recommending amendments to the Chinese constitution, calling for fair elections and an oversight system for the Chinese Communist Party, amongst other reforms.
On 19 January 2018, Yu Wensheng left his family home to walk his son to school. Yu Wensheng’s son returned home shortly afterwards, and reported to Yu Wensheng’s wife that the defender had been taken by a dozen law enforcement officers, including police and armored vehicles. Yu Wensheng was forced into a police vehicle after a physical altercation between the defender and at least one officer: a heavily edited video recorded by a police officer at the scene shows Yu Wensheng with one of his arresting officers.
Since the time of his arrest, neither Yu Wensheng’s wife nor his appointed lawyers have been allowed to see, speak to, or deposit funds for the defender at Shijingshan District Detention Centre, where the defender is reportedly held.
Yu Wensheng has faced government harassment and intimidation at several points throughout his career, such as when he was detained for ninety-nine days in 2014 for expressing support for Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement.
Additionally, in 2017, Chinese judicial authorities refused to allow Yu Wensheng to pass his annual license review, ultimately forcing him to leave his position at the Beijing Daoheng Law Firm. Lawyers in China are not allowed to practice law independent of affiliation with an established law firm. Yu Wensheng attempted to establish his own independent law firm but in January 2018, the human rights lawyer was informed that his application to establish a law firm had been denied. Yu Wensheng was subsequently informed that his legal license would be revoked, on the basis that he had not been employed by a law firm in over six months.
Front Line Defenders calls on the Chinese authorities to immediately release Yu Wensheng as it believes that the arbitrary arrest and detention of Yu Wensheng is solely an attempt to silence the defender and interfere with his work protecting the legal rights and freedoms of China’s citizens. Front Line Defenders further calls on the Chinese authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Yu Wensheng, grant him unfettered access to legal counsel of his choosing and communication with his family.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in China to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release Yu Wensheng and drop the charge against him;
2. Ensure that the treatment of Yu Wensheng, while in detention, adheres to the conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment', adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;
3. Reinstate Yu Wensheng’s legal license;
4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in China are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.