A jailed Chinese lawyer who defended other human rights lawyers arrested in a sweeping crackdown against activism has won an international human rights award, the jury said on Thursday.
Yu Wensheng was arrested in Jan. 2018, a day after publishing an open letter calling for reforms.
He is serving a four-year sentence announced in June 2020 after being convicted at a secret trial of “inciting subversion”, reports Reuters.
The Martin Ennals award, named for a former secretary-general of Amnesty International, has been awarded annually since 1994.
The winner is selected by a jury of 10 global human rights organisations, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent women’s rights activist released on Wednesday after nearly three years in Saudi prison, and Soltan Achilova, a journalist documenting violations in her native Turkmenistan, were the other finalists.
The jury praised them as outstanding human rights defenders “despite the many attempts to silence them by their authoritarian governments”.
“On the eve of the Chinese New Year, we hope this recognition of Yu Wensheng’s work will shine a light on his achievements and help him regain the freedom he has lost,” said Philippe Currat, president of the board of the Martin Ennals Foundation which oversees the award.
Yu had defended jailed prominent rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang before being stripped of his license and arrested.
“It is an honour for my husband, but also an encouragement to all Chinese human rights defenders to pursue their work despite the hardships,” his wife Xu Yan said on his nomination.
Phil Lynch, executive director of the International Service for Human Rights, one of the groups on the jury, said the award showed that “unjustly imprisoning Yu Wensheng” and other human rights defenders “will not go ignored”.