During German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to China this week, she met with the wife of a currently detained human rights lawyer, Yu Wensheng, according to a Twitter post by fellow lawyer Yao Jianqing.
Yao posted the message on May 24 along with a photo of the two together, noting that they spoke about “human rights issues.” The news was first reported by Radio Free Asia and Taiwan’s Central News Agency, among others.
今天，德国总理默克尔在中国，接见了中国人权律师于余文生的妻子许艳 ！双方就中国的人权问题交换了意见。 pic.twitter.com/GhMPxlraoG
— yao Jianqing (@YJianqing) May 24, 2018
German authorities have not publicized this meeting. Yao also did not provide further details about the meeting.
Merkel was in China to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and talk trade, particularly about barriers German companies face in the Chinese market, as well as intellectual property theft.
But she apparently made time to visit Yu’s wife, Xu Yan, a rare show of support for the plight of one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers.
Yu has represented cases of petitioners, rights activists, and adherents of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice heavily persecuted by the Chinese regime since 1999. He has been detained by Chinese authorities several times for his legal defense work, as well as his vocal criticisms of the Chinese regime.
Most recently, he was arrested on Jan. 19 while walking his child to school. Later, the prosecutor’s office in Xuzhou City, Jiangsu Province, charged him with “inciting subversion of state power”—a common charge for dissenters—and “obstructing government administration.” He is now detained at the Xuzhou City Detention Center.
Authorities also disbarred him from the legal profession.
Back in January, Germany called on Beijing to release Yu. The country’s commissioner for human rights, Barbel Kofler, wrote a statement noting that Yu’s rights were guaranteed in the Chinese constitution.
“All Yu Wensheng has done is campaign for democratic reforms in China and support fellow citizens who were harassed for exercising their human rights,” he said.
Yu’s lawyers tried to visit him on May 16, but were denied by the detention center, according to Sound of Hope Radio. Yu has not been allowed access to his lawyers since he was arrested.
Meanwhile, his wife, Xu, has repeatedly applied to local authorities to seek information about his case, but to no avail.
In October 2014, when he was arrested by Beijing police and detained for 99 days, Yu spoke to Amnesty International about the torture he endured, including having his arms handcuffed to the back of his chair for long periods of time. “My hands had swollen to the point where it felt like a punishment worse than death. The police would constantly pull at my handcuffs, and each time, I would scream terribly,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Why is Falun Gong persecuted?
Although it’s freely practiced in over 70 countries, doing this in China can lead to unlawful arrest, imprisonment, torture, or even death.