Yu was detained in Beijing in January 2018 in front of his young son after he wrote an open letter calling for constitutional reforms, including multi-candidate elections.
He was later charged with “inciting subversion of state power”.
Xu has received very little information since then.
She was able to have a five-minute video call with him in April 2018.
“He was a lot thinner, his hair was longer and messier than when he was at home,” Xu recalled. “He mentioned that the Beijing police treated him very poorly. When he said this, he wore a very painful expression.”
That same day, she got a government notice saying Yu was held in Xuzhou.
Xu only heard from her brother-in-law — and then later from her husband’s government-backed lawyer — that Yu was put on trial in May this year.
But nobody knows if he was sentenced and neither his wife nor his lawyers have been able to visit him.
“I feel helpless, disappointed, and also useless,” Xu told AFP. “But in my heart, I’ve never considered giving up.”
Yu’s case is “typical on how the Chinese authorities deal with dissidents or human rights defenders,” said Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International.
They never make it clear whether family members will be notified of the trial date or even invited, he told AFP.
“All of this is enshrouded in mystery and makes the family very concerned about the safety of the person,” he added.
Another human rights lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, was held incommunicado for over 1,000 days without access to his family or a lawyer prior to his closed-door trial in January.
His wife, Li Wenzu, was finally allowed to visit him in jail in June — nearly four years after he disappeared in a 2015 crackdown on rights lawyers and activists.