IAPL: China: Immediately release rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and activist Xu Yan

13 April marks the first anniversary of the detention of human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and his wife, activist Xu Yan.

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about this case and call for the immediate and unconditional release of Yu Wensheng and his wife, activist Xu Yan, as they have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights including the right to freedom of expression. The couple, both well-known activists in China, were taken into police custody while en route to the delegation of the European Union to China in Beijing on 13 April 2023, where they were invited to attend a meeting with the EU’s Ambassador to China. They were detained in Beijing Shijingshan Detention Centre from that date until January 2024, after which they were transferred to Suzhou Detention Centre in Jiangsu province, some 1000km away.

Yu and Xu were arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, an overly broad crime which is weaponized to target, intimidate and harass human rights defenders, activists, journalists and dissidents. In October 2023, Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan were indicted on those charges, as well as an additional and more serious charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” UN experts have repeatedly raised concerns about the authorities’ use of both crimes to target human rights defenders. There is no date set for their trial.

Xu Yan has reportedly lost 14kg since being detained and the conditions of her detention in Beijing may amount to torture and other ill-treatment. She has been subjected to verbal abuse, including being intimidated by police who threatened to arrest her son if he undertakes advocacy on her and Yu’s case. Their son, who turned 18 just before their detention, has faced a serious deterioration of his mental health over the last year, and currently suffers from depression. Xu and Yu‘s transfer to Suzhou has exacerbated his isolation and the risk of further mental health impacts.

Ahead of the first anniversary of their arrest, we call on the Chinese government to uphold its international human rights obligations. We urge the Chinese government to:


China: Immediately release rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and activist Xu Yan