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China: The Observatory calls on the Chinese authorities to ensure the full and unconditional release of lawyer Yu Wensheng  

24 February 2022  

On 1 March 2022, lawyer and human rights defender Yu Wensheng will be released from Nanjing prison (Jiangsu province) after 50 months in detention. The Observatory calls on the Chinese authorities to ensure Yu Wensheng’s reunification with his family and to allow him to practice his profession without restrictions, in accordance with the basic principles on the role of a lawyer. 

Yu Wensheng is a leading figure in China’s human rights legal community. He has notably defended a number of sensitive cases, including individuals petitioning the government for redress of rights violations, civil rights activists, and fellow human rights lawyers such as Wang Quanzhang detained in the “709 crackdown” in July 2015. His efforts to protect human rights were met with strong reprisals from the authorities, who revoked his licence on 16 January 2018. Three days later, he was forcibly disappeared under “residential surveillance at a designated location”, one day after publishing an open letter calling for constitutional reform. He was tried in secret on 9 May 2019. His wife, Xu Yan was only informed of his four-year sentence in June 2020.   

Yu is arbitrarily detained, accused of inciting state subversion. He has been subjected to numerous inhuman and degrading treatments while in detention. Yu suffers from tremors in his right hand, chronic malnutrition and the loss of his teeth. The prison authorities have refused his wife’s financial support to enable him to have dental surgery and buy food. Yu was only allowed out of his cell to walk twice a month. On 9 January 2022, the authorities denied Yu a visit to his dying father.   

The Observatory strongly denounces the treatment of Yu Wensheng in detention.  

The Observatory is gravely concerned that Yu Wensheng may not be completely free on 1 March 2022 and may be placed under de facto house arrest, subject to severe restrictions on movement and communication and unable to be reunited with his family in Beijing.   

The Observatory wishes to remind the Chinese authorities of the basic principles relating to the role of the Bar (1990):  

“Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.” (Principle 16)