Wang Yu, Emblem of China’s Human Rights Crackdown
On July 9, human rights lawyer Wang Yu was detained from her Beijing home, becoming the first of nearly 300 rights activists and lawyers to be detained, questioned, prevented from travel, or otherwise missing over the next few days in what has become known as the “Black Friday” crackdown. While the majority have since been released, Wang and over a dozen others remain in detention, many in undisclosed locations. At The Guardian, Tom Phillips profiles Wang Yu, focusing on her work leading up to the detention and the mixture of fear and commitment amid her colleagues:
[Scholar of Chinese politics Roderick MacFarquhar] added that anyone who questioned [the Party’s] supremacy was “fair game” [in the Xi era].
Wang Yu, a commercial lawyer who began taking on human rights cases in about 2011, is one such person. In and out of the courtroom, Wang built a reputation as a fearless champion of the downtrodden and a perpetual thorn in the government’s side.
She defended feminist activists, members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong and Ilham Tothi, the respected Uighur academic who was last year jailed for life for inciting separatism.
[…] Some lawyers now refuse to discuss the recent detentions, apparently fearing reprisals. Others claim the repression will only inspire further resistance.
“China is still an authoritarian and conservative state and somebody has to make the sacrifice,” said Yu Wensheng, one of the movement’s newest adherents, during an interview at his spartan office overlooking Beijing’s urban sprawl.
“As far as I am concerned, we would rather face the regime’s oppression than have to bear the humiliation of bowing to it. I’m much happier facing oppression than standing by watching the wrongdoing and not trying to change it. Many human rights lawyers share my view on this, I think.”
[…] Almost two months after Wang Yu was seized, her whereabouts remains a mystery. […] [Source]
The Guardian also posted a short documentary based on interviews with Wang from last year about the 2013 case that likely led to her detention, adapted from a forthcoming full length documentary:
Wang Yu’s was the first of 20 prisoner profiles (#FreeThe20) published by the U.S. government in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary conference of the UN’s Beijing Declaration on women’s rights later this month:
Day 1: Wang Yu, China
Wang Yu is a 44-year-old prisoner in the country where the historic 1995 Beijing Conference was held: China. Wang’s activism was sparked in 2008, when employees at a train station refused to let her board a train with her ticket. After demanding the right to board, Wang was assaulted by several men and then – even though she was the one who had been beaten – convicted to two-and-a-half years in prison for assault. She later told a reporter, “After my miscarriage of justice… I wanted to improve China’s human rights system.” Wang did that by taking on the cases of clients who other lawyers feared to represent. For her work, Wang has been harassed, threatened, and smeared in the State-run media. On July 9, 2015, Wang herself was detained. [Source]
As the campaign launched, U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Powers mentioned Wang in her press conference:
Wang did that by taking on the cases of clients who other lawyers feared to represent, such as Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur scholar eventually sentenced to life in prison; Cao Shunli, a woman human rights activist who died in March 2014 after reportedly being denied medical treatment while in detention; and those who are known as the “Five Feminists” – young women who were detained in advance of International Women’s Day in March of this year for planning a campaign against sexual harassment. For her work, Wang has been harassed, threatened, and smeared in the state-run media. On July 9th, 2015, Wang herself was detained. So was her husband, along with their 16-year-old son. Wang and her husband remain in prison, where they have been denied regular access to a lawyer in custody and have not yet been charged. Their son was released, but is under constant surveillance and has been barred from leaving the country. When at least 159 Chinese lawyers and activists signed a petition calling for Wang’s release, many of them were detained as well.
Responding to attacks against her in the state-run press, Wang once wrote, “I believe that during this time of enlightenment and rapid development of the internet…any shameful attempt to smear me is doomed to fail.” She said, “The truth cannot be long hidden.” In raising Wang’s case today and others like it in the days to come, we aim to help her and others expose some of that truth. Let me repeat her name – it is Wang Yu.
We will continue to repeat Wang Yu’s name, and that of other women like her, over the coming days. […] [Source]
Meanwhile, Ai Weiwei clarified his thoughts on the crackdown on human rights defenders in a public conversation with poet Liao Yiwu in Berlin on Wednesday. In August, the German Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted him as saying that “the tactics are not as unlawful as a few years ago. Of course the police have the right to arrest you if they think you’re suspicious.” From Nadja Sayej at The Guardian:
[…] “This audience expects me to speak about this sentence that I allegedly said, the arrest of lawyers is not a big deal,” said Ai. “When I said the arrest of all lawyers is not a major topic, I did not want to insinuate this is to be seen in the context of today’s laws. I meant it in the context of history. It has not been a major topic in our history.
“Lawyers are defending law, but law in a country where the system is not a healthy one, the lawyer could be arrested,” said Ai. “This will be the case until we have the rule of law.” Ai’s lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was arrested, still awaits trail. [Source]