Imprisoned Chinese rights lawyer Yu Wensheng has won an international human rights award in recognition of his fight for justice.
Yu, 54, was named Martin Ennals Award Laureate 2021 during an online ceremony livestreamed from Geneva on February 11.
“In 2020, Chinese authorities harassed human rights defenders raising concerns about COVID, defending ethnic minorities, and standing up against corruption,” said Andrew Anderson, Front Line Defenders executive director and member of the judging panel. “Yu Wensheng and his wife Xu Yan deserve all our support as they bravely call for basic human rights and the rule of law,” he said.
Yu was among three award finalists selected by a jury of 10 global human rights organizations that included Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The other two finalists were Loujain al-Hathloul, Saudi Arabia, and Soltan Achilova, Turkmenistan.
A statement from the Martin Ennals Foundation said that all three had distinguished themselves by their bravery and deep commitment to human rights, despite the many attempts by their authoritarian governments to silence them.
“On the eve of the Chinese New Year, we hope this recognition of Yu Wensheng’s work will shine a light on his achievements and help him regain the freedom he has lost,” said Philippe Currat, president of the Martin Ennals Foundation board.
The foundation said that Yu has been detained since 2018; he has been harassed, disbarred, and convicted in secret for inciting subversion against state power.
His wife Xu Yan was told by authorities in mid-June last year that he had been secretly tried in May 2019. Along with a 4-year jail sentence, he is to be deprived of political rights for a further three years.
Xu welcomed the news of her husband’s nomination for the award.
“It is an honor for my husband, but also an encouragement to all Chinese human rights defenders to pursue their work despite the hardships,” Xu said.
“My husband always helped others and defended the rule of law. He was never guilty and should be acquitted immediately,” she said.
Yu was also the recipient of the Franco-German Human Rights and the Rule of Law Prize in January 2019, and his wife received the award on his behalf.
Yu has been held by the state since being arrested while he was taking his teenage son to school on January 19, 2018. Earlier, he had “published a post asking for the National Congress of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] to remove Xi Jinping from office and for constitutional reform to improve the legal and political systems,” said a statement issued by a collection of rights and civic groups mid-last year.
Amnesty described Yu as a prominent Beijing human rights lawyer who has represented fellow human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang and Falun Gong practitioners, among others.
Yu was also previously detained for 99 days in 2014 after voicing his support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. He told Amnesty that he was tortured in detention.
Watch this Martin Ennals Foundation video based on a letter by Xu Yan to her imprisoned husband Yu Wensheng.