More than six months after he was released from a Chinese prison, prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng talked about his experience in the Chinese prison for the first time with a foreign media outlet. He is pessimistic about the prospects facing human rights lawyers in China and he thinks support from the international community is critical to the community.
Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng was released from prison in March, after being imprisoned for four years under “inciting subversion of state power.” More than six months after his release, the experience in prison remains vivid to him.
“The 82-day detention under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ made me feel like dying might be my way to end all the miseries,” he told DW. “If they fed me poisonous wine during that time, I would drink it without any second thought. It’s really hard to describe the situation I was in.”
Since 2012, China has implemented “residential surveillance at a designated location,” targeting dissidents and activists. According to Yu, the window of the secretive place would be completely covered up, making it hard for him to distinguish whether it was daytime or nighttime. Several police officers would take turns to interrogate him at 6 or 7 a.m. every morning, and the interrogation usually lasts 17 or 18 hours.
“I would be interrogated in a metal chair for 17 or 18 hours every day, and my hands would be handcuffed to the chair,” he said. “The walls and the toilet bowl in the room would be completely covered by foamed plastics, and I later learned that it was to prevent the detainees from committing suicide, as the experience during RSDL would usually make detainees want to die. It was the same for me.”
“When I was sleeping, usually three police would surveil me and when I went to the bathroom, police would be inside and outside the bathroom,” he added.
After spending 82 days under RSDL, Yu was transferred to a detention center in Xuzhou in May 2018, and he spent the next 33 months there. According to him, police used pepper spray against him and the recurring issue with his teeth couldn’t be treated properly, causing him to lose three teeth in the end.
Crackdown on human rights lawyers increased under Xi Jinping
Some experts think Yu’s experience in the prison over the last four years reflects the large-scale persecution of human rights lawyers in China. Teng Biao, a Chinese legal scholar in the United States, says the “709 Mass Arrest” in 2015 affected almost all active human rights lawyers in China, and the mass arrest caused a serious loss in the community.
“These lawyers were either warned, banned to leave China or interrogated, while many of them were arrested or sentenced,” he told DW. “Apart from the imprisoned human rights lawyers, the Chinese government also revoked the licenses of many lawyers or forced them to not take on human rights cases.”