EU seriously concerned about arrest of Chinese rights activists

BEIJING (Reuters) – The European Union has said it is seriously concerned at the arrest of two prominent Chinese human rights activists and has called for their immediate release after they were arrested on their way to a meeting with EU officials in Beijing last week.

The detention of Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan just before their meeting with EU officials last Thursday was “already unacceptable,” an EU spokesman said in an email reply to Reuters late Tuesday, adding that their ” formal arrest on Saturday is a matter of “serious concern”.

“The EU has asked the Chinese authorities for their immediate and unconditional release,” the spokesman said.

“China’s ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and lawyers is a well-known EU issue that we are raising at all levels.”

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Chinese authorities have not confirmed the detention of the couple, and the Beijing Public Security Bureau did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

When asked about the arrests at a briefing on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not refer directly to the couple, but said “Chinese authorities are handling cases according to the law” and China rejects interference in internal affairs away.

Yu Wensheng, 55, is a human rights lawyer who last year served a four-year sentence for “undermining government power.” He was among more than 300 lawyers and activists arrested in a 2015 raid.

His wife, an activist, Xu Yan, lobbied for his release, claiming that he was tortured and ill during his detention. The authorities reject allegations of torture.

The couple had planned to attend a meeting with Gunnar Wiegand, the EU’s top diplomat to Asia, the EU’s ambassador to China, Jorge Toledo Albinana, and representatives of Chinese civil society, a source familiar with the matter said.

The EU delegation in Beijing announced on Friday that three other human rights lawyers, Wang Quanzhang, Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, had been placed under house arrest.

Two of those lawyers successfully attended Thursday’s meeting, said the source, who declined to be identified.

(reported by Laurie Chen)

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