Update: On 1 March, Yu Wensheng was able to leave Nanjing Prison and reunite with his family in Beijing, as reported by his wife Xu Yan, upon completion of his arbitrary sentence, and after four years of arbitrary detention . Xu Yan stresses the vital role of ongoing support by international allies over the past four years in guaranteeing that they could safely reunite.
UN human rights defender expert Mary Lawlor stated she’s ‘delighted Yu Wensheng has safely reunited with his wife Xu Yan and child on completion of his prison sentence,’ although ‘he never should’ve been imprisoned.’ She stresses she will ‘continue to monitor his situation.’ On 28 February, she called on China to ‘unconditionally release’ him, and recalled past UN action on his case.
ISHR thanks all its partners and supporters who joined collective action to put pressure on the Chinese authorities ahead of Yu’s completion of sentence.
ISHR will continue to closely monitor with a view to ensure that they are free from harassment, and that lawyer Yu fully recovers his fundamental freedoms.
The signatory organisations* also called in the joint statement for sustained attention on the growing risks and threats his wife, Xu Yan, faces for advocating for his rights and release.
A Laureate of the 2021 Martin Ennals Award, Yu Wensheng is a leading figure among human rights lawyers in China. He has fearlessly taken on a number of sensitive cases and issues, joining litigations on air pollution advocating for a constitutional government.
For this, the authorities revoked his legal license on 16 January, 2018. Three days later, he was forcibly disappeared, a day after publishing an open letter calling for constitutional reform. He was put on trial in secret on 9 May 2019, but his wife, Xu Yan, was only informed of his four-years jail sentence in June 2020.
Yu Wensheng is expected to leave prison in Nanjing on 1 March 2022, after being detained for 50 months, which should mark the end of his sentence for ‘inciting subversion of State power’. As early as May 2019, UN experts concluded his detention was arbitrary and called on the government to release him. Ever since, a number of government and UN experts have called for his release.
The signatories of the joint statement* express grave concern that Yu Wensheng may be put under a de facto home arrest, severely restricted in his movements and communication, and unable to reunite with his family in Beijing.
Human rights lawyers have endured such restrictions upon leaving prison on grounds of a supplemental sentence of ‘deprivation of political rights’, in a phenomenon known as ‘non-release release’. In September 2019, UN experts condemned the use of this practice against lawyer Jiang Tianyong as ‘gratuitously punitive and legally unjustified’.
ISHR and all signatory organisations urge the Chinese authorities to:
- Ensure that Yu Wensheng is able to reunite with his family in Beijing on 1 March, to exercise his rights to move and communicate freely, and that he is not subjected to surveillance and harassment. He must also be able to resume his legal work without restrictions;
- Put an end to the surveillance and harassment of Yu Wensheng’s family;
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all lawyers in China, including human rights lawyers, are able to carry out their legitimate professional duties without fear of reprisals and free of restrictions.
Read the full statement (click here for the English version and the Chinese version)
*List of signatories: ISHR, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Frontline Defenders, the International Bar Association, Human Rights Now, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, the Martin Ennals Foundation, the 29 Principles, Human Rights Watch, and Lawyers for Lawyers