Beijing — On January 18, 2021, the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders announced its nomination of Yu Wensheng as one of three finalists for outstanding human rights defenders based in authoritarian states. Lawyer Yu, 54-years-old, gave up his career before his 2018 arrest which evolved from his participation in defending the 300 human rights activists and lawyers captured in the 709 Crackdown.* The foundation’s announcement stated that being “detained for almost three years now, Yu Wensheng’s right hand was crushed in jail, and his health is failing.”
In 2020 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities sentenced Lawyer Yu to serve four years in prison on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” With the advocacy of Lawyer Yu’s wife Xu Yan and the international community’s attention, European and the American governments called on the CCP to release Yu Wensheng. On January 14, 2021, after being detained for nearly three years, authorities permitted a 20-minute video meeting between Lawyer Yu, and his wife at the Xuzhou Detention Center.
After Ms. Xu learned of her husband being nominated for the humanitarian award, she posted on Twitter that she considers this the best present and blessing. “I am happy for Lawyer Xu, and on behalf of him sincerely thank the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and other supporters for the encouragement and empowerment. They are not just honoring Lawyer Yu, but also encouraging other human rights lawyers/defenders still persevering and working hard. Thank you….”
Lawyer Yu’s recommendation for the 2021 Martin Ennals Awards coincides with the increasingly difficult persecution of numerous Chinese human rights lawyers as well as those who have had their licenses revoked for participating in cases CCP authorities deem sensitive. Recently, the Sichuan Provincial Department of Justice confirmed that authorities had revoked the license of Sichuan lawyer Lu Siwei who represented the “12 Hong Kongers case,” Authorities also revoked the license of Henan lawyer Ren Quanniu, who defended citizen journalist Zhang Zhan and the “12 Hong Kongers case.” A hearing to regain his practicing privileges was reportedly to be held on January 19, however, the court postponed that date.
Currently, as the CCP remains hostile to the universal values of democracy, the rule of law, and the guarantee of freedom of speech, authorities may arrest anyone in the name of an all-encompassing charge, “subversion of state power.”
The other two finalists and human rights defenders:
- Soltan Achilova, an independent photojournalist and reporter from Turkmenistan, who shed light on injustices and human rights violations;
- Loujain AlHathloul, a Saudi woman human rights activist, sentenced to jail for the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
Kong Kingchu, author of Chinese Rights Lawyers and their Fellows: pawn of the revolutionary army, quoted Lawyer Yu Wensheng:
This day and age will make you do many things to be able to contribute to democracy. … Someone has to sacrifice to pave the way for those who come afterwards. Since I’ve come this far, there is no going back. I also do not wish to return. [I will] keep moving forward until the Chinese society realizes real democratic freedom. … [If someone needs to be] a pawn in the revolutionary army, then [I will be] a pawn in the revolutionary army….
As one of the best-known and most intrepid Chinese human rights activists, Yu Wensheng has faced the severest forms of repression by the Chinese state, including arbitrary detention, conviction during a secret trial, and expulsion from the legal bar. According to his wife, he is currently being held in solitary confinement, has been denied access to medical care and subjected to ill-treatments which resulted in his hand being crushed. In December 2020, a Chinese regional High Court upheld the four-year prison sentence against him. Ever since, his whereabouts are unknown.
* 709 Crackdown started on July 9, 2015.