The New York Times: China Detains Lawyer Who Accused Police of Torture, His Wife Says

The New York Times
By Andrew Jacobs

Aug. 7, 2015

BEIJING — A Chinese lawyer who defied the authorities by speaking publicly about being tortured in police custody and who had become a vocal critic of a continuing government crackdown on human rights lawyers has been detained by the police, his wife said on Friday.

The lawyer, Yu Wensheng, 48, was taken away in handcuffs late Thursday night after more than a dozen police officers forced their way into the family’s Beijing apartment, said his wife, Xu Yan.

She said in an interview that the police had confiscated a computer and memory stick from the apartment and had said Mr. Yu would face criminal charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a nebulous, catchall accusation increasingly lodged against Chinese rights advocates.

Mr. Yu’s detention comes amid a concerted assault in China on so-called rights defense lawyers, a small but audacious band of legal defenders who have been willing to take on politically sensitive cases.

Yu Wensheng, a lawyer who has said he was tortured by the police
while in detention, at his office in Beijing last month. Mr. Yu was
arrested again by the police late Thursday.

Adam Dean for the New York Times

Though few of the detained lawyers have been officially charged or given access to legal representation, the state news media has characterized them as “black hands” and “criminal thugs” who encouraged social unrest by organizing protests outside courthouses and aggressively confronting judges.

Rights advocates say the campaign against rights lawyers is the latest installment of a continuing effort to rein in civil society groups and government critics that began after President Xi Jinping of China assumed office in late 2012.

Mr. Yu, a commercial lawyer who only recently began taking on politically charged cases, disappeared for three months last year after he protested his inability to see a client being held at a local detention center in Beijing. Mr. Yu stood outside the detention center for hours after he was denied entry, and photographs of his silent protest made their way onto Chinese social media. Two days later he was taken away by the police.

In an interview last month, he described weeks of abuse, including sleep deprivation and being tied to a metal chair for hours during questioning. At the time, he said, his interrogators wanted him to confess to having encouraged the pro-democracy demonstrations that shook Hong Kong last year.

Mr. Yu said he refused to concede to their demands, and he was later released without charge. He said the police warned him, however, against speaking about his time in custody.

Mr. Yu kept quiet during several months of recovery from his mistreatment, including surgery for a hernia he developed while in custody. But in recent weeks, he began to publicly criticize the government’s assault on rights lawyers.

Last week, he posted online a letter he sent to Chinese leaders that accused the Ministry of Public Security of illegally detaining lawyers. A few days later, he added his name to a petition, addressed to Mr. Xi, demanding that the police be held accountable for their role in the detentions.

Cheng Hai, 63, an acquaintance of Mr. Yu who also signed the letter, said he thought the police might be seeking to punish him for openly criticizing the authorities. Mr. Cheng added that he himself was unafraid of the possible repercussions of signing. “Safeguarding rule of law has its price,” he said in an interview.

In recent days, the police have detained a number of other lawyers, including Li Chunfu, the brother of Li Heping, a prominent rights defender who is among those who disappeared in an earlier police sweep.

“This is another blow to the Chinese government’s pledge that it will uphold the rule of law,” a spokesman for the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, a Hong Kong organization, said by telephone.

Ms. Yan, Mr. Yu’s wife, said officers at the police station where her husband was being held refused to allow her to see him on Friday. An officer who picked up the phone at the police station refused to confirm whether Mr. Yu was there.

During the raid, she said, the police refused to show a warrant and smashed through the front door, knocking her husband to the floor. She said it was unclear whether he was injured because the police immediately bundled him away.

“After that, my 10-year-old son couldn’t fall asleep until 2 a.m.,” she said.

In an interview last month, Mr. Yu said that he knew his freedom was tenuous but that he was not willing to stay silent. “I used to be afraid of the police,” he said, “but now that I’ve been through the experience of being detained, I am no longer afraid.”

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