Activists have denounced a video posted by a Chinese state-funded media outlet as an effort to discredit human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, who was seized by around a dozen people on Friday. Speaking to HKFP, his wife has questioned the clip’s credibility.

Yu was detained as he left his Beijing apartment to walk his child to school at around 6:30am. Hours earlier, he had circulated an open letter calling for reforms to China’s constitution. He has not been permitted to see a lawyer since he was detained, his wife says.

Yu is known as a persistent voice for reform in China. He was one of a group of lawyers who tried to sue the government over the country’s air pollution, and also represented lawyer Wang Quanzhang, one of the human rights lawyers detained in China’s sweeping 2015 crackdown. Wang has yet to be released.

Photo: Screenshot.

On Tuesday, Shanghai-based outlet The Paper posted an edited video clip provided by Beijing police on its website. It accompanied an article about an alleged attack on police by a man surnamed Yu who was suspected of “picking quarrels.”

In it, a man is seen arguing with about half a dozen people, including some wearing protective gear and one filming the scene on his phone. The man can be heard saying: “I won’t cooperate, I won’t cooperate… You can use violence. I won’t cooperate.” Later, he swings a punch at a man ordering him to get into a car. After a jump cut, the other men appear to roughly push him into a van as he swears at them.

Citing information from Beijing police, The Paper said that Yu was uncooperative with police summons and injured two officers by kicking one in the knee and biting another’s finger. It said he was suspected of “disrupting public service.”

Yu’s full name was not given, but the article included details such as identifying Yu as a lawyer who was disqualified on January 15. Yu received a notice from Beijing’s Bureau of Justice dated January 15 cancelling his license.

Xu Yan outside the detention centre where her husband is being held. Photo: Provided to RFA.

Yu’s wife Xu Yan told HKFP that the police did not produce documents when they seized Yu.

She questioned the clip’s credibility: “I think it was released to damage Yu Wensheng’s reputation. Yu Wensheng was not the first lawyer to be discredited in China.”

“This was not the complete video – what did Yu Wensheng experience at the time? They should release the entire video.”

On Wednesday morning, multiple Twitter accounts simultaneously published screenshots of the article and links to the YouTube video with accompanying text criticising Yu.

Photo: Screenshot.

Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, said the tweets were posted by “wumao” who may have been trying to reach a foreign audience. A “wumao” is an internet commenter apparently employed by the Chinese authorities.

He added that the video explains Yu’s charge, which his lawyer previously called “absurd.”

“The intention is to use this to discredit Yu Wensheng, as we saw similar tactics to use videos to discredit other human rights defenders.”

Ou Biaofeng, a Hunan rights activist, said on Twitter that the media outlet was being untruthful and “acting as an accomplice to the villain” by framing Yu Wensheng. He also pointed out that the video had been edited and cuts between footage from different cameras and timecodes.

Su Yutong, a journalist and human rights activist based in Germany, said on Twitter: “I reasonably question whether they had taken actions to enrage Yu Wensheng beforehand, and whether they took serious violent actions towards Yu Wensheng afterwards.”

She added that she thought Yu was framed and his actions constituted legitimate self-defense.

Lawyer Xie Yanyi, who was detained in the crackdown on human rights lawyers but has since been released, said of Yu’s detention: “When Yu Wensheng was detained we can feel that, whether those in power or the law enforcers, their hearts are trembling – who is lawful and who is unlawful, everyone knows in their hearts!”

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.