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After months of petitioning, Xu Yan just saw her husband for the first time in three years. A prominent human rights lawyer in China, Yu Wensheng was seized by a dozen police officers, including a SWAT team, on a January morning three years ago, when he left his apartment in Beijing to walk his 13-year-old son to school. Yu, who was nominated for a prominent international human rights award this week, had represented some of the 300 lawyers and activists rounded up in a massive crackdown in China in 2015. Hours before his arrest, he had written an open letter calling for constitutional reform.
After two years in detention without access to his family or lawyers, Yu was sentenced to four years in jail for “inciting subversion of state power.” His wife was only informed of the verdict of the secret trial, which began in May 2019, in a phone call from the prosecutor’s office more than a year later. So when the authorities finally allowed her to visit last week, the news came as such a surprise, her mind went “completely blank,” as she wrote on Twitter.