Human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, who was detained over a week ago, has been put under a form of secret detention and charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”

Yu was seized by around a dozen people, including a SWAT team, as he left his Beijing apartment to walk his son to school on January 19. 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, despite efforts by several lawyers to see him.

Yu Wensheng
Chinese lawyer Yu Wensheng poses for a portrait in Beijing on January 12, 2017. File photo: Fred Dufour.

But on Saturday, police in Xuzhou – in the coastal province of Jiangsu – told his family members that Yu is suspected of “inciting subversion of state power.” Yu, who lives in Beijing, was previously facing a less serious charge of “disrupting public service.”

A notice from police to Yu’s family members also said that he was being held in Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location (RSDL.) Yu can therefore be held in solitary detention for up to six months at a secret location without access to a lawyer or his family members.

Wife summoned

Messages attributed to Yu’s wife Xu Yan were circulated online stating that police gave her the notice on Saturday night and had her accompany them during searches of her husband’s office and residence.

She was questioned at a police station and permitted to return home the next day at around 4pm, according to the message.

A source – who cannot be named due to safety concerns – confirmed to HKFP that the notice was given to Xu by Xuzhou police as they summoned her.

Xuzhou. File photo: Wikicommons.

Responding to the change in Yu’s charges, Yu’s lawyer Huang Hanzhong told US-backed Radio Free Asia on Sunday: “Last night the authorities summoned Yu Wensheng’s wife again, and notified her that the crime he was being held for was changed.”

“The authorities finally showed their discontent at Yu Wensheng’s exercising of his freedom of speech, and showed that they want to punish him for ‘inciting subversion of state power.’”

Xu was warned to stay quiet and her mobile phone was confiscated, according to RFA.

RSDL Monitor, a group that monitors this form of secret detention, told HKFP: “The transfer of Yu Wensheng into RSDL, where all relevant ‘exceptions’ will likely be used to allow the state to completely disappear him, marks a significant turn for the worse for Yu.”

It said that Yu will likely face mental and physical torture, as had other RSDL prisoners.

“China must respect Yu’s right of access to a lawyer, and allow the prosecutor to monitor his situation, as neither would interfere with an investigation and are a basic human right enshrined in China’s own legal system. This could at least show that the police are willing to follow the law themselves.”

A receptionist who picked up the phone at the Xuzhou Public Security Bureau told HKFP they “did not have the case.”

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.