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China police take away lawyer who wrote letter urging reform

January 19, 2018

Xu Yan, the wife of Chinese lawyer Yu Wensheng, speaks during an interview in their apartment on the outskirts of Beijing, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. The wife of a Chinese human rights lawyer says her husband was taken into police custody Friday morning while taking his son to school, a day after he posted a letter online calling on China's ruling communist party to reform the Chinese constitution and allow open presidential elections. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

BEIJING (AP) — Early Friday morning, Yu Wensheng, a Chinese human rights lawyer, was waiting in his car to take his 13 year-old son to school when more than a dozen police officers came and took him into custody.

His wife, Xu Yan, told The Associated Press that their son ran back home after seeing a van, a SWAT car and two police cruisers, and burst into their apartment saying, “Mom, the police took Dad away!”

“I don’t know anything. We don’t know the charges, or who took him, or which department has him right now, as the police haven’t given us any information,” Xu said.

Yu gained widespread attention after being detained for three months in 2014, during which he says he was tortured and questioned. He was detained again in 2015 but released after a day when his case received wide publicity.

Yu’s seizure on Friday took place a day after he posted a letter online calling on the ruling Communist Party to reform the Chinese Constitution and allow open presidential elections.

“The president, the head of state, is basically appointed without any meaningful election. It has no credibility for the country, for civil society and for countries across the world,” Yu said in the letter.

Xu believes her husband’s letter was the reason he was taken away.

“Though the contents were protected by constitutional rights to free speech, putting this kind of thing online right now in China is not allowed,” Xu said.

Friday marked the conclusion of a Communist Party plenary session that moved to insert a reference into the constitution on the importance of party leader and President Xi Jinping’s pet political theory.

Xu said she went to the local police station and case information center on Friday evening, but was told that her husband wasn’t there.

A police officer reached by phone at the Xingucheng neighborhood police station, who would only give his surname, Chen, said he had “no idea” about the case. Chen added that even if there was a case involving Yu, he would not be allowed to comment.

Xu isn’t optimistic about her husband’s prospects this time around, saying she cried and hugged her son after she heard the news.

“The authorities already know that a lot of people are watching, but they went ahead and detained him,” Xu said. “They did it, even expecting the attention they’d get.”

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