Interview: 'This is How They Treat an Innocent Person; It's Totally Unacceptable'

Interview: 'This is How They Treat an Innocent Person; It's Totally Unacceptable' Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng (R) and his wife Xu Yan (L) are shown in an undated photo.
Photo provided by human rights lawyers

The wife of jailed Chinese rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, who has been held incommunicado since his detention some three years ago, has finally been allowed a 20-minute video call with him at a detention center in Xuzhou city, in the eastern province of Jiangsu. In an interview with RFA's Mandarin Service, Xu Yan describes the meeting and calls on the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to treat her husband more humanely, including allowing him to serve the rest of his sentence for "incitement to subvert state power" closer to the family home:

RFA: How did you feel when you received the news that you would get a video call after no family visits for three years?

Xu Yan: When the detention center first agreed to it, it was quite surprising, because they have deprived him of all of his legal rights for the past three years. Visiting should be a normal part of the legal process, but this was a surprise. It seemed special. Anyway, so I put on my make-up and my smile when they told me 2.30 p.m.

In that moment when I first saw him [onscreen], I also heard the police officer say that we could only have 20 minutes. But there wasn't time to cry about that. On the one hand, I didn't want to be seen weeping, and anyway, there wasn't time. I was worried that there might not be a next time, and I needed to update him on what is happening outside. I also needed to find out how he was doing, physically, and the conditions he was living in, so that 20 minutes passed pretty quickly.

RFA: How did Yu Wensheng appear to you. You have mentioned before that his right hand shakes, and that he suffers from toothache. How is he doing now?

Xu Yan: [Yu Wensheng] was sitting on an interrogation chair, wearing the uniform of the detention center and wearing a mask. He has no hair: they shaved it off. It was clear that he was also handcuffed; that's what I saw.

I felt bad, because the way he looks now is so different from his previous persona as a lawyer. He was very focused on his professional image back then, and he always wore a suit and tie at work. Seeing him that way was sad and distressing for me.

He should never have gone to prison in the first place. He has to suffer like this, be in handcuffs: that's how they treat an innocent person. It's totally unacceptable, but there's nothing I can do about it.

I found out more about his right hand. Apparently he can't write because it still shakes too much. I call on the Chinese government to ensure that he receives treatment for his right hand immediately. He told me he had three teeth extracted because of pain. I told him I would ask the judicial authorities to get him fitted with crowns, and stand up for his rights from outside.

I don't know if they will give him crowns, but I will definitely be advocating for that, and calling on them to treat Yu Wensheng humanely, in accordance with the law.

RFA: Yu's attorney Lu Siwei has also been targeted by the authorities recently. You also went to Sichuan two days ago to support him. Did you tell Yu about that?

Xu Yan: I told him that his ... defense attorney Lu Siwei had to attend a hearing for the revocation of his lawyer's license, and he was sad about that and expressed his concern for Lu's future. I told him it wasn't just his case but that he had also represented the 12 Hongkongers ... so that he wouldn't feel too guilty.

RFA: Did he say anything else about life in the detention center?

Xu Yan: One of the problems he wants to get sorted is that there is no congee for him in the mornings. To start with, he was only allowed cold water, but lately they have been allowing him warm water if the weather is cold, but no congee. That's not something most people would be able to tolerate, nothing but cold water [for breakfast] on a cold day. It's not hard to make congee in the morning; this is a very basic humanitarian need.

RFA: Now that Yu Wensheng's appeal has been rejected, have they said which prison he will be sent to?

Xu Yan: He has been in the detention center for the previous three years ... and is now due to be transferred to prison to serve his sentence. The next matter at hand is which prison they will assign him to. The defense lawyer and I ... are calling on the Chinese government to transfer him to a prison in Beijing, where he lives.

I asked Yu Wensheng [on the video call] if he knew which prison he was being transferred to. He didn't know, but he also asked to be transferred back to a prison in Beijing.

This should happen because it is where his household registration is, and so that he can benefit from family visits. They have taken him to Xuzhou, which is 1,600 kilometers away [from his home] and it means I have to travel [all that way] just for a 20-minute visit. That's cruel, and it's a form of persecution for the family.

RFA: Was it an emotional meeting?

Xu Yan: He expressed his concern for me, and I told him I loved him and that I'm waiting for him and stuff like that. I spoke quite forcefully, and I think that cheered him up a bit; he even smiled a bit towards the end. We were both laughing when we made hearts with our hands and blew kisses.

Reported by Chen Pinjie. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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