Beijing Sentences Chinese Human Rights Lawyer to Four Years in Prison

June 17, 2020 Updated: June 20, 2020

Yu Wensheng, a Chinese human rights lawyer who has been detained for over 900 days since he was arrested in January 2018, has been sentenced to four years imprisonment.

Yu’s sentence was confirmed when his wife, Xu Yan, released a voice recording to the media. According to Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, which obtained the recording, Xu said that her husband was sentenced in the morning of June 16.

Sounding distraught, Xu said in the recording that Chinese authorities did not contact Yu’s family or his defense lawyers as they secretly handed out the prison term. She questioned if there was any rule of law in China, as Yu was sentenced without a fair trial or access to his representation.

Xu added that her husband made it clear that he would appeal the sentence; she later told Apple Daily that his lawyers will appeal the case in the next ten days. She called on the international community for help to “stop China from illegally and arbitrarily bullying its people.”

Yu drew the Chinese regime’s ire after he posted an open letter on Twitter in January 2018, addressed to senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who gathered in Beijing for a major political meeting.

In the letter, he offered several suggestions to reform China’s political system, such as for the Chinese leader to be chosen democratically.

One day after his post, local police took Yu into custody near his home in Beijing. He was then taken to Xuzhou city in coastal China’s Jiangsu Province and placed under “residential surveillance.”

Yu was put on a secret trial in Xuzhou on May 9, 2019. Neither Xu nor his defense lawyers were contacted in advance.

In April this year, the prosecutor’s office in Xuzhou charged Yu with “interfering with public functions” and “inciting subversion of state power”—a catch-all charge Beijing often uses against dissidents.

Yu’s wife said she is worried her husband would face a situation worse than what fellow human rights lawyer Wang Quangzhang experienced.

Wang was released in early April after serving a 4.5-year sentence on charges of “subverting state power.”

Yu was once a defense lawyer for Wang; the two are well-known for defending activists and adherents of the spiritual group Falun Gong, a meditation practice that has been severely persecuted by the Chinese regime since 1999.

Michael Caster, a human rights advocate and co-founder of Spain-based NGO Safeguard Defenders, said the sentencing was outrageous.

“Yet again a human rights lawyer in China who in a better world would be highly decorated for his conviction has been sentenced unjustly after a lengthy disappearance,” Caster wrote in a tweet.

Hong Kong-based human rights activist Patrick Poon tweeted that Yu’s sentence was “a shame for China’s criminal justice system.”

Hong Kong pro-democracy party Demosistō compared Yu’s case to the impending national security law to be implemented in the Chinese-ruled city.

“A secret trial was held w/ his wife notified only AFTER ruling. This’s how China uses National Security Law. Now Beijing applies it to HK and HKGov claims it has zero impact on civil liberties,” Demosistō stated in a tweet.

On May 28, China adopted a national security law for Hong Kong after a ceremonial vote by its rubber-stamp legislature. The law would criminalize those who engage in activities connected to subversion, secession, terrorism, and foreign interference. The law will be implemented after details are drafted by Beijing.

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