Wife of jailed Chinese rights lawyer sets up legal consultancy to make ends meet

Xu Yan, the wife of jailed human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, has set up a legal consultancy to help people struggling with China’s justice system, she told RFA on Thursday.

Yu is currently serving a four-year jail term for “incitement to subvert state power,” after being detained in a nationwide operation targeting rights lawyers under the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

While he is scheduled for release in March 2022, Yu said it is unclear whether he will be able to regain his license to practise law.

“Yu Wensheng will be allowed to return home in about four months’ time … but his license to practise law has been revoked, so his ability to work as a lawyer will be highly restricted,” Xu told RFA.

“This will have a huge impact on his career, and on our family,” said Xu, who said she set up the company in her name to get around the problem.

She said the court also sentenced Yu to three years’ deprivation of political rights, which means he won’t be able to form a company in his own right for the next five years.

“Some [lawyers] have suffered a massive financial blow, and some are even in difficulty,” Xu said. “Legal consultancy services could be one way [to deal with that].”

Xu’s new consultancy, Beijing Wenshun Legal Consulting Services, was formally approved and issued with a business license two weeks ago, with Xu Yan as the company’s legal representative.

“The company was established successfully on Oct. 12, 2021,” she said. “Yu Wensheng wanted it to be called Wensheng, but you can’t use personal names for companies, so I chose Wenshun instead.”

“Its meaning suggests that things will go smoothly for Wensheng, which is something I would wish for him, as his wife,” she said. “Another special coincidence is that Oct. 12 also happens to be my birthday.”

“I am worried that it will be more difficult for him to set up again [as a lawyer], after he comes home,” Xu said. “So I set up the company before he comes home.”

‘I was so worried’

Xu said she was “pretty nervous” at every step of the process.

“Sometimes a police car would pass by while I was doing it, and I would worry whether or not they already knew about it, and whether they would interfere to stop the process, to stop me setting up the company,” she said.

“I was so worried, but the the whole thing went off without any hitches,” Xu said.

Fellow rights attorney Xie Yang, who knows Yu and Xu, said she had been very smart in handling the situation they way she did.

“Given that the company didn’t bear Yu Wensheng’s name, it got through easily, and the authorities didn’t stop it,” Xie said. “It would have been very hard for them to apply to set up a legal consultancy after Yu Wensheng got out.”

Xie said some lawyers are managing to scrape a living doing legal consultancy work, even though they are barred from acting as someone’s attorney, amid tight controls imposed on the profession by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“The CCP is placing tighter and tighter restrictions on lawyers these days, barring them from speaking out or disclosing any details of cases they are working on,” he said.

“Lawyers have been muzzled, and have no independent voice … so this is one way to remedy the situation for the legal profession,” Xie said.

Yu was held incommunicado for three years before being sentenced to jail for “incitement to subvert state power.” He was granted the Martin Ennals Award 2021 earlier this year, for his work as a human rights defender.

The Martin Ennals Foundation called him “one of the best-known and most intrepid human rights activists” in China, acknowledging that Yu has been subjected to arbitrary detention, a secret trial, and the removal of his license to practice law.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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