The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jailed Chinese lawyer reappears to deliver a ‘confession,’ but the script seems familiar

Chinese rights activist and lawyer Wang Yu during an interview in 2014. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

BEIJING — In another time, or another place, Wang Yu's reappearance would have been good news.

Wang, who is one of China's most respected human rights lawyers, was detained more than a year ago as part of a sweeping crackdown on the legal community. For more than a year, she's been kept from her son. For more than a year, she's been denied independent legal counsel.

A report published Monday says that Wang is now free on bail, but the news is being treated with skepticism rather than relief because it came alongside what appears to be another tightly scripted public confession that her supporters think was probably coerced.

Recent examples include a missing Hong Kong bookseller's absurd account of how he voluntarily smuggled himself to China to stand trial for a decades-old crime, a confession by a Swedish human rights worker broadcast on state television and a highly suspect interview-confession given by a legal assistant, Zhao Wei, who was reported "free on bail" but may still be in custody.

The news that Wang has been released on bail was reported Monday by Hong Kong's Oriental Daily. In an "exclusive" interview, Wang, a skilled lawyer, delivers what is essentially the government's case against her using the government's favorite turns of phrase.

Wang told Oriental Daily she and her colleagues were trained by unspecified foreign forces to "attack" and "smear" the Chinese government. The training sought to instill "Western universal values and notions of democracy and human rights."

Wang, who has been held without trial for a year, then goes on to accuse these forces, not Chinese authorities, of holding her hostage. “They used my family and I, taking us hostage to smear the party and attack the Chinese government,” she says.

One of the strangest sections of the interview is when Wang, who has devoted much of her career to human rights, denounces a European human rights award she won.

Wang told Oriental Daily she "won't acknowledge, won't recognize and won't accept" the award, a word-for-word echo of China's terse and much-repeated promise that it "won't acknowledge, won't recognize and won't accept" the recent ruling on the South China Sea.

"I am Chinese. I only accept the leadership of the Chinese government. I don’t accept the award now and won’t accept it in the future,"  the lawyer said.

William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said news that Wang is free should be viewed with suspicion until the circumstances surrounding the interview, and the terms of her release, are clear.

"It makes you wonder: What happened to her in detention and what kind of pressure did they put on her and her family to get to the point where she's willing to say these phrases, these talking points, that almost everyone agrees she would never say?" Nee asked.

"This fits a pattern of abusive tactics that the government is using to silence critics: forced confessions with compliant media after long detentions, as well as pressure on family and friends."

Gu Jinglu contributed to this report.

Read more:

She was a quiet commercial lawyer. Then China turned against her.

How a 16-year-old found himself caught up in China's crackdown on lawyers.

Hong Kong bookseller's confession was absurd--and that was the point.