Jailed Chinese lawyer receives prestigious human rights award

Martin Ennals Foundation

The Geneva-based Martin Ennals Foundation announced Yu Wensheng as the winner of its annual global prize for human rights defenders in an online ceremony on Thursday evening.

This content was published on February 11, 2021 - 19:21

Yu, 54, was put behind bars in 2018 after spending ten years working on several high-profile human rights cases. His best-known client was fellow lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was arrested during a major crackdown on human rights activists in 2015.

In addition to his defense work, Yu advocated for constitutional and judicial changes in China, including the introduction of a multi-party system and ending the death penalty.

In December 2020 a Chinese regional high court upheld his four-year prison sentence. Since then, his whereabouts have been unknown, according to his wife, who accepted the award on his behalf and recorded her thanks in a video broadcast during the ceremony.

“The award is not only an honour for Yu Wensheng, but also an encouragement to all Chinese human rights lawyers and human rights defenders who persist and work hard despite difficult circumstances,” said Xu Yan, who herself is under state surveillance but continues to campaign for her husband’s release.

The other 2021 finalists were Loujain AlHathloul, a women’s rights campaigner in Saudi Arabia who was released from prison this week, and photojournalist Soltan Achilova, who documents human rights abuses in Turkmenistan.

The prize provides protection and support for activists who are at risk. The winner is selected by a jury made up of ten prominent NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It is named after Martin Ennals, a British human rights activist who was also Amnesty’s first secretary-general.

The award is supported by, among others, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the City of Geneva.

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