Chinese human rights lawyer sentenced to four years after being detained for more than 900 days

After being detained at an unknown location for more than 900 days by the Chinese government, Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wen-Sheng was sentenced to four years in prison for inciting subversion of state power. The court has also decided to deprive him of civil rights for three years once he serves out his jail time. His wife Xu Yan criticized the Chinese government for handing down the verdict in a secret trial, saying it reflects Beijing’s lack of courage to reveal the truth to the public. She thinks the way that Beijing handled this case proves that Yu is innocent.

Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wen-Sheng was given a verdict in a secret trial on Wednesday morning. His wife Xu Yan said she received a call from the Xuzhou Prosecutor’s Office at around 11 a.m. this morning, and the person on the phone told her that Yu had been sentenced to four years in prison for inciting subversion of state power. The court had also decided to deprive him of civil rights for three years after he completed his jail time.

According to Xu, the court in Xuzhou has once again opened a trial against Yu without informing the family members and his lawyer. She described the proceeding as completely illegal and said she is very unsatisfied by the fact that the court handed down his verdict in a secret trial. “They basically opened a court session this morning and informed me after they had a verdict,” Xu said.

Yu was arrested by police after he published an open letter recommending amendments to the Chinese constitution in January, 2018. His whereabouts has been unknown ever since. According to Xu, Yu was tried in a secret trial on May 9, 2019, and his family has not received any official updates about his case since he disappeared in 2018.

Xu said that since she and Yu’s lawyer were both not informed about today’s trial, they worried Yu’s legal rights may have not been guaranteed. “I don’t think the court is going to give me the official verdict, because since my husband was arrested in 2018, they have not shared any official documents about the case with me,” Xu recalled. “The fact that the Chinese government has been handling the case through secret trials shows that they lack the courage to share facts about the case with the public. It also shows that Yu is innocent.”

Can he appeal the verdict in ten days?

According to the Chinese law, after the verdict is handed down, the defendant will have ten days to file an appeal. Xu said the prosecutor told her that Yu refused to accept the verdict and he had insisted on appealing the case. However, since Beijing has been asking its residents not to leave the city as new COVID19 cases emerge, Xu isn’t confident that she will be able to show up in court in case Yu Wen-Sheng decides to appeal the case.

In fact, Xu, her children and their lawyer have not been able to meet Yu since he was detained more than 900 days ago.She described Beijing’s way of handling the case as “illegal and cruel,” and she called on the international community to condemn Beijing’s way of handling the case.

According to Leo Lan, the Research and Advocacy Consultant for the Washington D.C-based Chinese Human Rights Defender, said normally, the courts in China would only grant an appeal when they are trying to fulfill a process.

The courts usually don’t even need to hold a hearing in order to deliver a verdict. Lan said all that the courts need to do is to deliver a written decision on whether the appeal is successful or not. “However, it’s Yu’s rights to apply for an appeal within ten days of the verdict,” Lan said.

Xu Yan also said that as Beijing tried Yu in another secret trial, it shows that they don’t really respect rule of law in China. “Even though the government has willingly decided to violate the law, we still need to protect rule of law as family members of a defendant,” Xu said, “However, when the government doesn’t respect rule of law, it will make us feel very powerless as we try to advocate for our detained family members. I’m feeling quite helpless and I hope to seek the support from the international community.”

Leo Lan from CHRD said since Yu was detained, his family has not been able to get much information about his case. “This case is yet another example that shows how Beijing silences dissidents through draconian legal means,” Lan said. “The decision to deprive him of his civil rights for three years is also a typical way for the authorities to silence Yu after his jail term ends.”

This article was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.

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William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.