Five Women’s Rights Activists Criminally Detained

Five women’s rights activists have been formally detained in Beijing on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a nebulous charge that has been used in recent months against a wide variety of activists, lawyers, and writers. The five—Wu Rongrong, , Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, and Wang Man—were part of a larger group who planned to distribute stickers on public transportation to raise awareness of sexual harassment and were picked up by police last weekend. Megha Rajagopalan reports for Reuters:

No formal charges have been levied, but they were suspected of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, lawyers said, a charge authorities have used in the past to jail political dissidents.

A rights activist close to two of the women told Reuters police had warned many other campaigners against staging demonstrations on Women’s Day, which coincided with an annual parliamentary session, a sensitive period for the leadership.

, another lawyer representing one of the women, said he had learned the details of the case after meeting his client on Thursday.

Police in the Haidian district of Beijing, where the women are being held, could not be reached for comment. [Source]

At the Guardian, Tania Branigan reports on the potential impact of their detentions on the feminist movement in China:

The fact they are criminally detained – not just informally held – indicates they could well be charged. Detentions and convictions of have increased sharply since Xi Jinping became China’s leader two years ago and the women were seized during annual political meetings in Beijing, which tends to be a sensitive period. But similar initiatives to mark previous International Women’s Days had not led to custody.

The detentions took place as premier Li Keqiang met female legislators, telling them: “Women hold up half the sky [a famous quote from Mao Zedong] and you should believe that your male counterparts … will move forward hand-in-hand with you.”

Feng Yuan, a women’s rights activist, said: “We cannot understand why the authorities are so tough this time. What the activists want is exactly what state policy on women says: that women should be equal.”

“There are so many mixed messages … there is some progress. Now, with these young activists detained, we see the progress to gender equality is so slow, our achievements are so little and the potential risk [to campaigners] is so huge.” [Source]

China Human Rights Defenders provides more background on the work of the five detainees, and links their detention to the broader crackdown on NGOs and civil society groups in China:

According to CHRD sources, the activists under criminal detention have fought for the rights of individuals suffering from HIV/AIDs and Hepatitis B, disabled persons, women discriminated against in rural land entitlement, employment, and higher education, and female victims of rape or sexual harassment, as well as the rights of LGBT individuals.

[…] Zheng and Wu were transported to Beijing—significant distances from where they were taken into custody, a strong indication that they were swept up in a coordinated nationwide police action against based in Beijing, and likely because of orders from the central government.

Li, Wu, and Zheng have all actively promoted the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in China by conducting trainings, disseminating information, organizing events to raise public awareness, documenting cases of rights violations, and participating in CEDAW reviews. As part of reviewing the Chinese government’s compliance with the Convention, the CEDAW Committee stated in Concluding Observations in November 2014 that it was concerned about reprisals against NGOs and activists taking part in the review process, and about restrictions and censorship faced by NGOs in China.

The detentions and raids on NGO offices come at a time when the Chinese government is introducing strong measures, including a draft law to restrict the funding and the operations of foreign NGOs inside China, to further close off space for NGOs to function. [Source]

Read more about the crackdown on NGOs via CDT.

The detentions come just before the 20th anniversary of the landmark U.N. World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, and as women’s rights activists gather in New York for the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women. NPR interviews New York University professor Anne Marie Goetz about the 1995 conference and how things have changed for women in the two decades since.

On Twitter, Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., spoke out in support of the detained activists:

A Tumblr has been set up to gather support for the activists as well.