The French and German ambassadors to Beijing have granted a human rights award to detained Chinese lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生), with his wife picking up the prize on his behalf on Monday.
Yu — best known for suing the Beijing city government over the city’s once chronic pollution — was detained in January last year and charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”
Prior to his arrest, Yu had circulated an open letter calling for five reforms to China’s constitution.
His wife, Xu Yan (許艷), received the award at an event organized by the German embassy in Beijing.
The prominent attorney was among 15 winners of the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, announced in November.
Yu “has lost his freedom for a year and not allowed to meet with a defense lawyer,” Xu said at the event attended by the German and French ambassadors to China, according to a transcript she posted on WeChat.
“His case has been postponed three times and referred back to the police for further investigations twice,” Xu said.
“I learned about this situation when I went to the Xuzhou City Procuratorate on Dec. 24,” she said. “No matter how difficult it is, I will continue to defend the rights of Yu Wensheng, because I believe Yu Wensheng.”
For several days beginning on July 9, 2015, more than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and advocates were detained or questioned in a police sweep that rights groups called “unprecedented.”
The “709 crackdown,” as it was later dubbed, marked the largest clampdown on the legal profession in recent Chinese history.
However, Yu was not arrested during the sweep and had continued to express his opinions on legal issues.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in May last year met with Xu and Li Wenzu (李文足) — the wife of another detained rights lawyer, Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) — during her trip to Beijing in a rare move for a visiting leader.
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