China detains prominent human rights lawyer and Xi Jinping critic

Rights lawyer Yu Wensheng has been detained by Chinese authorities, hours after circulating a letter calling for constitutional reforms. Yu is the latest litigator to be arrested as part of China’s crackdown on dissent.

Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng was detained by authorities, including a SWAT team, on Friday morning as he left his Beijing apartment to walk his child to school, his wife said.

Yu’s arrest comes days after he had his law license revoked and mere hours after he circulated a letter to journalists criticizing Chinese President Xi Jinping and calling for constitutional reforms.

Yu’s wife, Xu Yan, said she had not received any legal documentation about his detention nor been told what crime he is alleged to have committed. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security had also yet to officially announce his detention.

Patrick Poon, a researcher for Amnesty International, said Yu’s detention “shows that the Chinese government is less and less tolerant towards criticism on state leaders.”

“It’s extremely worrying if he’ll be charged with any serious crimes like ‘inciting subversion of state power,'” Poon added.

Yu, who had been briefly detained in October last year, has long been a vocal detractor of China’s ruling Communist Party. He is best known for defending other prominent rights lawyers detained for supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, as well as for representing six attorneys who attempted to sue the Chinese government over the country’s chronic smog problem.

Yu’s clients included Wang Yu following her detention in 2016 and Wang Quanzhang, who has remained in prison for 920 days with his case yet to go to trial.

Yu’s calls for reform

On Thursday, Yu had disseminated a letter calling for changes to China’s state constitution, which included the introduction of multi-candidate presidential elections.

“Designating the nation’s president, as head of state, through a single party election has no meaning as an election,” Yu wrote. “It has no power to win confidence from the nation, civil society, or the world’s various countries.”

The rights lawyer also called for reduced military power and for dropping a preamble that gives the Communist Party primacy in national leadership.

His report was released as China’s Central Committee debates introducing new constitutional reforms, although these are expected to include contributions from Xi with the aim of consolidating his power.

Crackdown on dissent

Yu is the latest victim of the Xi’s consolidation of power and sweeping crackdown on dissent, targeting everyone from human rights lawyers to teachers and celebrity gossip bloggers.

More than 200 rights litigators and activists have been detained or questioned since 2015. The states suppressive measures have been described by rights groups as “unprecedented.”

Last year, activist and Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer while in detention after authorities rejected his request to seek treatment abroad. He was sentenced in 2009 to 11 years in prison for “subversion” after pushing for democratic reforms in the country.

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