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Open Letter to the Global Lawyers Forum

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Xu Yan | China Change

This article was first published on November 29, 2019

To the respected international lawyers participating in the Global Lawyers Forum: 


My name is Xu Yan (许艳), and I am the wife of Yu Wensheng (余文生), a Chinese human rights lawyer. When I learned that China will be hosting the Global Lawyers Forum in Guangzhou, on December 9-10, as a Chinese citizen –– especially as the wife of a Chinese lawyer –– I was extremely honored to see such an international gathering being held in my country.  

After my husband Yu Wensheng lost his freedom, I’ve made approximately 50 trips in person to various government departments and sent about 200 submissions to supervisory departments at all levels, but I basically got no response. As powerful as China is, it also made me, a wife who seeks justice for her husband, feel a profound sense of helplessness and sorrow. 

Lawyer Yu Wensheng’s case in brief: 

A Beijing native, Yu Wensheng handled cases involving religious freedom and served as defense counsel for lawyers swept up in the “709” crackdown. He also proposed amendments to the Constitution. 

On January 19, 2018, Yu Wensheng was taken away from home and forcibly disappeared. It was only a few days later that I learned he had been detained by the Beijing Shijingshan public security sub-bureau; later he was taken to Xuzhou City, where he was detained under “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL).  He was charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” and his case was processed entirely in secret –– secret review and prosecution, then a secret trial.  At present, he continues to be detained unlawfully, and it’s not even clear if he is dead or alive.  

The law enforcement organs (including public security, the procuratorate, and courts) in Beijing and Xuzhou completely disregarded the legal rights afforded Yu Wensheng and his family under Chinese law, and seriously trampled on the authority of the law. In Xuzhou, the actions of the law enforcement organs undermined the proper implementation of Chinese law. Specifically, the authorities committed the following criminal acts in handling Yu Wensheng’s case:

1. Unlawful residential surveillance in a different locale. Xuzhou is neither the place where Yu Wensheng is registered nor is it the place where Yu Wensheng resides. Nor does Yu’s extended family have any connection to Xuzhou. Yet the Xuzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau nonetheless inexplicably placed him under “residential surveillance in a designated location.”

2. Deprivation of Yu Wensheng and his family’s right to hire a defense lawyer to represent Yu. Since the date of Yu Wensheng’s enforced disappearance, the Beijing and Xuzhou law enforcement organs have refused to permit defense lawyers hired by Yu’s family to enter the case. They have given all kinds of absurd reasons for rejecting our lawyers.

3. Deprivation of family members’ right to be informed. Yu Wensheng has been illegally detained for more than two years, and during this time there has been no way for his family to learn any information about him through regular channels; we don’t know if he is physically healthy, or if he’s alive.   

4. Secret trial.  On May 9, 2019, the Xuzhou Intermediate People’s Court held a trial in the case of Yu Wensheng.  Despite the fact that I am his wife, I was kept in the dark.  It’s been more than half a year since his trial, and I still don’t know the result of this trial and my husband’s circumstances.     

As Yu Wensheng’s wife, there’s only one thing I hope for day and night –– that Yu Wensheng will get out of prison soon and return to normal life.  But my humble hope has become increasingly unattainable, in light of the staunch and unyielding will of the Xuzhou law enforcement organs to disregard the law time and time again. 

5. Extended detention and prolonged delay in rendering a verdict. The law provides that within two and a half months after a trial, the court must issue a verdict in the case. But it has been 6  months since Yu Wensheng’s secret trial, and there’s still no verdict. Accordingly, the authorities have violated the concerned party’s legal rights, failed to protect human rights, and contravened the concept of the rule of law. 

In sum, I am requesting the following help from individuals who have been invited to participate in the Global Lawyers Forum, including the president of the International Bar Association, the president of the Association of European Lawyers, the chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, and the heads of justice departments and bar association officials from many nations: 

1. Please arrange a time to meet with me, Xu Yan, Yu Wensheng’s wife, to understand what is happening right now in China regarding Lawyer Yu, who has been deprived of his freedom and his legal rights, and to hear about my rights defense experience. Please rescue your lawyer colleague. Thank you!

2. I am asking you to clearly raise the following points at the Forum:   

Lawyer Yu exercised his lawyer’s professional rights and freedom of expression according to law and should be immediately acquitted and released. 

The right of Lawyer Yu to meet with his defense attorneys and receive their help should be honored immediately. 

End his illegal extended detention, immediately issue a verdict, and acquit Lawyer Yu. 

Yu Wensheng has been deprived of his professional rights and prosecuted, but the All-China Lawyers Association (ACLA) has done nothing to defend the rights of its member Lawyer Yu, and even aided in persecuting him. I am requesting the Global Lawyers Forum to ask ACLA to immediately correct its previous mistakes and help to immediately launch an emergency rescue action of its member Yu Wensheng.

Please inquire of the Chinese government on my behalf: has Lawyer Yu been tortured? Is he still alive? 

Your actions will not only help my family; they will become part of the effort to normalize China’s national governance, and also show the Chinese people the justice and righteousness of the participants of the Global Lawyers Forum. Many thanks!

Xu Yan (Lawyer Yu Wensheng’s wife) 

November 29, 2019 

*Translator’s note: The Global Lawyers Forum is a creation of the Chinese Party-state, and it is held by, and for, China. It should not be confused with the World Bar Conference, even though the Chinese name of the Forum “世界律师大会” may lead the Chinese audience to mistake the former for the latter.  

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