HKFP Voices Law & Crime Politics & Protest

‘I’m still striving and persevering’: life with an imprisoned husband

The following is by Xu Yan, the wife of detained Chinese lawyer Yu Wensheng who has been incarcerated for almost two years and was subject to a secret trial earlier in the year. The article was written on Yu’s birthday.

On January 18, 2018, Chinese lawyer Yu wrote an open letter suggesting constitutional reform to change the current system under which the leaders of the country are chosen. The very next day, while taking our child to school, he was arrested by the authorities and sent to Xuzhou City in Jiangsu, where he was subjected to residential surveillance at a designated location.

Yu Wensheng

Yu Wensheng with his wife Xu Yan.

Yu was also the defence lawyer for lawyer Wang Quanzhang – an emblematic victim of the 709 Crackdown, in addition to taking on cases to protect the freedom of religion in China. In 2014, he was incarcerated for 99 days for supporting the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, during which he was tortured, and needed surgery upon return to our home.

He has lost his freedom for almost two years. During this time he was not allowed to meet with his defence lawyers, and I did not get to see him. We have no idea about his current situation. Every day, I worry about whether he was tortured, about his physical health, and about the result of his case.

On May 9, 2019, Lawyer Yu Wensheng’s case was brought to the Xuzhou City Intermediate People’s Court, where a secret trial was held for his alleged crime of “inciting subversion of state power.” Six months have passed, there is still no record on the court’s digital system, and the judge himself has refused to meet or answer any calls to his phone. Yu’s lawyers and I have made multiple attempts to request an answer directly at the Xuzhou City Intermediate People’s Court, but the efforts have been in vain.

Yu has been deprived of many of his legal rights in the past two years, including the right to counsel, right to know, and his right to meet with his lawyers. The authorities have so far provided neither a proper indictment nor updates regarding the case, and even went on to conduct a secret trial. Was it really Yu committing a crime, or is the Chinese judiciary abusing its powers?

As his wife, it is sometimes difficult, as I have travelled several dozen times to Xuzhou City and the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing. I have filed more than a hundred letters to the supervisory organs, but have yet to receive a reply. This often made me feel helpless and disappointed in rights defence.

709 crackdown anniversary lawyers protest

Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

I often take the earliest high-speed train from Beijing at around 5am to Xuzhou City, which is 800km away. In winter, the sun is usually not yet up when I arrive. Nobody is in the streets, I get scared, and sometimes cry as I drag my feet to my destination. Of course, some days it rains or snows, making the trip even harder.

In such times of difficulty, I tend to think to myself: Yu was only fulfilling his responsibilities as a lawyer, helping the downtrodden with the law, and exercising his constitutional right to freedom of speech. He has done no wrong, but why is he subjected to such treatment? Why has our family been targeted and suppressed?

But whenever these thoughts appear, I hear the voice of Yu Wensheng, “My dear, I’m sorry for making you suffer.”

I understand his efforts, and so I must grow and love as he does.

Although this rights defence action is a strenuous effort, I am willing to continue to strive and persevere – because however difficult this may be, it is nothing compared with what Yu Wensheng has been going through.

709 crackdown anniversary lawyers protest

Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Thank you so much for all the help and attention that everyone has given to Yu and me. This allowed us to continue our climb up our steep path, knowing that we are not alone.

Yu has already been unreasonably detained for a long period of time, hence I ask the Xuzhou City Intermediate People’s Court to release the judgment of his case immediately.

November 11 is the birthday of Yu Wensheng. Happy Birthday! May all my wishes go out to you, hoping that you are safe.

Thank you all once again for your attention to this case.

Xu Yan (Wife of lawyer Yu Wensheng)


Xu Yan is the wife of Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng. Lawyer Yu was notably the defence lawyer for 709 Crackdown victim Lawyer Wang Quanzhang, has been known for taking on cases to defend freedom of religion and was locked away for 99 days for supporting the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement in 2014, during which he was tortured. Yu was taken away in January 2018 after proposing constitutional changes, and has since been subjected to secret trial this year, according to Xu.

'I'm still striving and persevering': life with an imprisoned husband