China’s secret trials: ‘I have not seen my husband for almost three years’

By Javier Triana

Beijing, Jan 15 (efe-epa).- The last news Shi Minglei had about her husband was at the beginning of September, and only to learn he had been secretly tried a few days earlier.

There is no information on the case on the court’s website, nor were they notified of the date of the hearing, nor is there news on the sentence or official written notification.

Shi’s husband is Cheng Yuan, director of the non-governmental organization Changsha Funeng, dedicated to combating discrimination against people with disabilities, Hepatitis B, and HIV, and who has scored some important victories in those fields.

Cheng and his companions Li Yongze and Wu Gejianxiong were arrested on Jul. 22, 2019, and their families have not seen them since.

Being held apart, without the right to choose their lawyers, absent in court databases, or keeping families uninformed about trial dates are common characteristics of the secret trials some activists and lawyers are subjected to in China.

Additionally, lawyers chosen by the government avoid all contact with the families of their clients to avoid problems with authorities (responsible for authorizing the renewal of the lawyer’s practice permit every year), resulting in relatives remaining even more in the dark.

“In September 10th (2020) Wu Youshui an I went to Changsha… we went to the law office of Cheng Yuan’s govt-designated lawyer […] but they just hid and refused to meet us, so I was very angry and had an argument with the person at the front desk. Two lawyers from the office came to me and threatened me,” Shi Minglei said during an interview with EFE in Beijing.

“I was furious and I argued with the person at the reception, and two lawyers came out and threatened me,” she added. The scene was recorded with the mobile by the lawyer Wu Youshui, father of one of the arrested companions along with Cheng Yuan, and ended up on social networks, which had an unexpected effect.

“That evening Wu Youshui called him (his son’s government-designated lawyer) and he told him – ‘They have been tried one week ago and I told you we will never, we won’t defend for them in the second round trial, so could you not give us pressure?’” Shi said.

It is the last they heard of a case in which the three men have been tried by the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court for “inciting the subversion of state power.”

The boss knows him and is also affected by Xu Yan, wife of the renowned human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, arrested Jan. 19, 2018 for “inciting subversion against state power” and whom he has not seen in person again. Except for a five-minute video call in April of that year and another, of 25 minutes, granted this week.

She said that in the first one she saw him thinner and more unkempt. In this second one, held in the Xuzhou Detention Center, he saw him pale and malnourished, handcuffed and wearing a mask.

Yu Wensheng participated in the defense of various human rights cases, such as those of members of the religious group Falun Gong (banned in China since 1999), or colleagues arrested in 2015 in the so-called “709 raid.”

Nor has Xu Yan received official communications from the trial. She actually found out about the beginning of it orally and unofficially.

An unidentified man aged about 25 stood at the door of her house on the morning of May 9, 2019 and said: “Today the case is starting, do you need any help?” He did not elaborate, did not specify if it was the case of Yu Wensheng. He then left in a hurry. Xu only corroborated her suspicions later.

That day, Xu went to the European Union headquarters in Beijing to celebrate Europe Day and neither the officials nor the lawyers present, she said, thought China could start a case without notifying the family. They were wrong.

Xu Yan believes the secrecy in her husband’s case is largely due to the proposed constitutional reform that she drew up years ago. Shi Minglei believes they prefer to keep the process secret from her husband given the collection of illegalities committed against him.

Both wives accumulate dozens of visits to the courts, to the law firms, calls to those responsible, to the judges, which rarely give results. Xu Yan sums it up like this: “There is nothing legal.”

The cases do not appear on the websites of the competent courts. And the search “Yu Wensheng” in the Chinese search engine Baidu returns only 53 results, of which the majority are in relation to a military man of the same name, and only one refers to the lawyer: he cites him as a volunteer during the Beijing Olympics 2008. His wife confirms it’s about him.

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