China: Arbitrarily detained lawyer Yu Wensheng released | Update

Yu Wensheng

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada welcomes the news that Chinese human rights lawyer Mr. Yu Wensheng has been released from prison after completing a four year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of State power.” He was reunited with his wife Ms. Xu Yan in Beijing. However, there are significant concerns that he and Xu Yan may be under police restrictions, as no communications have been received from them since his release on 1 March 2022. Yu Wenshen was also sentenced to sentenced Yu to three years’ deprivation of his political rights after his release from detention. His licence to practice law was revoked in 18 January 2018, and it is not known whether he will be able to renew his licence.

Yu Wensheng has taken on a number of high profile human rights and public interest cases, including litigation on air pollution and publicly advocating for amendments to China’s constitution. On 19 January 2018, a day after he posted an open letter calling for constitutional reform, al government,  he was arrested and placed in detention without access to lawyers or his family. He was held in Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location (RDSL) and was subjected to a secret trial on 9 May 2019.

In May 2019, UN experts concluded that his detention was arbitrary and called for his release. His wife, Xu Yan, was not informed that he had been given a four-year jail sentence until June 2020. Considerable advocacy for Yu Wenshen  has been conducted, including calls by UN experts for his release. He is a Laureate of the 2021 Martin Ennals Award.

It was feared that when his sentence ended he would not be released unconditionally, but would be subjected to further restrictions on his liberty through the practice of what has become known as  “non-release release (NRR)” by which a number of prominent human rights lawyers and defenders have been kept in various forms of detention after “release” from prison. Forms of NRR include house arrest, enforced travel and confinement to a hotel room, or confinement at a police-owned facility.