A detained Chinese human rights lawyer said he would never agree to be represented by a government-appointed attorney, in a video statement recorded months before his arrest and released on Wednesday.
Supporters of Yu Wensheng released the video after his wife was notified by authorities last week that Yu had dismissed the two lawyers he hired.
In the video, Yu says: “I will never accept a lawyer appointed by the authorities, unless I am tortured,” before adding that he would accept a lawyer chosen by his wife.
But his wife, Xu Yan, said police last week handed her a written statement from Yu saying he had fired his lawyers and would not allow her to appoint a lawyer on his behalf.
Xu said she feared that her husband wrote the statement under duress. Yu was transferred to a pre-trial detention centre in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province on Friday.
Yu, 51, represented fellow attorney Wang Quanzhang, who was detained when more than 300 rights lawyers and activists were rounded up in July 2015. Wang is believed to be the last lawyer swept up in the “709” crackdown in custody still without trial.
Yu was detained in January and disbarred. He was officially arrested on subversion charges last week.
His wife said she was now worried about how he was being treated.
“He has a strong mind. He didn’t leave any type of statement before he was arrested and tortured the last time [in 2014] for supporting Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement,” Xu said.
“He told me after he was released that he would be much stronger the next time he was arrested … I’m very worried about his situation in the detention centre.”
It is not uncommon for Chinese human rights activists to record pre-emptive video statements when they believe they are in danger during a crackdown.
After being released, some activists have said they were forced to make statements on state television before their trial, and to accept representation by lawyers arranged by the authorities.
Yu’s statement announcing he had dismissed his attorneys was also not unusual, according to his friend and another lawyer, Liang Xiaojun.
“This was very common during the 709 crackdown,” Liang said. “I don’t think it’s legal because bringing in these government-approved lawyers goes against the will of the defendants.”
Yu was granted a video call with his wife last week, and she said the time in custody appeared to be taking its toll.
“He’s lost a lot of weight and his hair was long and in a mess,” Xu said. “We weren’t allowed to talk about much, but he told me several times that he was not free and couldn’t do anything.”
Yu has been a persistent voice for reform in China, despite the country’s sweeping and increasingly severe crackdown on civil society under President Xi Jinping.
He has said that the authorities imprisoned and tortured him for 99 days in 2014 for allegedly “disturbing public order”.
Yu was one of six lawyers who attempted to sue the Chinese government last year over the country’s chronic smog.