Will Detentions Spark a “Feminist Awakening”?

Two of the five feminist activists who have been detained in Beijing on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” are suffering from serious medical issues:

DPA reports:

Wang Man is suffering from the effects of a congenital heart condition, her lawyer Zhao Xia said.

“In the detention centre’s environment her condition has worsened and she needs hospital treatment,” said Zhao, who declined to provide further details.

New York-based activist group Human Rights in China said that Wang has been transferred to the medical facility at the No. 2 Detention Center in Beijing.

The women are being interrogated for hours at least three times each day and this has contributed to Wu’s deteriorating health condition, lawyer Liang Xiaojun told dpa Tuesday. [Source]

China Human Rights Defenders has more on the health condition of Wang’s fellow detainee Wu Rongrong:

Wu Rongrong, the executive director of the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou, was taken to Beijing after police took her into custody. She told her lawyer during their first meeting on March 16—10 days after Wu was seized—that she had been forced to sleep on a concrete floor at the detention center while not being provided any medical treatment, including medication that she had been taking before her detention. When she asked authorities for the much-needed medicine, they refused her request, saying that her condition does not require treatment. Authorities subsequently told Wu’s lawyer that they would provide her a bed and medical care; however, when the lawyer visited Wu on March 18, he noticed that neither step has been implemented. The lawyer is considering applying for Wu’s bail on medical grounds.

One activist familiar with Wu’s health condition expressed concerns to CHRD about the seriousness and potentially rapid deterioration of her Hepatitis B, if appropriate treatment is not provided immediately. “Wu Rongrong’s illness could quickly evolve into a life-threatening condition,” the activist said. “With the precedent of activist Cao Shunli’s death due to deprived treatment in detention, we fear that nothing will stop authorities from treating Wu the same way.” [Source]

Sixteen activists who went to the Beijing detention center where Wu is being held to demand medical treatment for her were themselves briefly detained on Friday, according to a report by Michael Forsythe in the New York Times:

The group went to the Haidian Detention Center in western Beijing to deliver a note asking if Ms. Wu was being forced to sleep on the floor, as she had told her lawyer, and whether she had been sent to a hospital for treatment, Ms. Ye [Jinghuan] said. They were taken away to several police stations after about an hour, Ms. Ye said as she was being held. When called later in the afternoon, Ms. Ye’s phone had been turned off. Her detention, as well as that of the other 15 supporters, was subsequently reported by Weiquan Wang, a Chinese website that reports on human rights. [Source]

All 16 were released by Saturday morning.

In a conversation on ChinaFile, Leta Hong Fincher says that by cracking down on these well-known and widely-respected feminist activists, the government, “might just have provided the spark that was needed for a large-scale, feminist awakening in China.” In the same conversation, Eric Fish makes a similar point:

But this approach to silencing dissent is a dangerous one for the Communist Party. It risks alienating more and more segments of Chinese society; and people today, especially youth, generally speaking, are becoming less fearful of speaking out when they see obvious wrongs being committed. This was perhaps best illustrated by the Southern Weekend protests in early 2013. Leta Hong Fincher smartly pointed out how this case is already serving as a catalyst to wake up more feminists, but I might take it a step further.

These days you don’t have to challenge the Communist Party’s fundamental legitimacy (something that doesn’t tend to resonate with most Chinese) like Liu Xiaobo to receive a long prison sentence. The line of what sparks harsh repression is encroaching into causes that encompass more sympathetic and relatable figures. Last year, members of the New Citizen’s Movement were given lengthy prison terms after pushing moderate causes like official assets declaration. Now these women with an even less controversial agenda are facing the same charges. It begs the question: how far it will go? But one doesn’t have to look back far in world history (and even Chinese history) to see that escalating repression and creating high-profile martyrs doesn’t tend to be a long-term recipe for keeping people on your side. In its efforts to snuff out any whiff of dissent now, the Communist Party risks planting seeds that could sprout into even greater opposition later. [Source]

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power issued a statement calling on the Chinese government to release the five, saying, “If China is committed to advancing the rights of women, then it should be working to address the issues raised by these women’s rights activists—not silencing them.”

Update: March 25, 12:10 pm PST: The Chinese government responded to statements from Power and from the U.K. Foreign Office calling for the release of the five activists, according to a Guardian report:

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the country’s foreign ministry, said she had no specific details about the cases, but insisted: “No one has the right to ask China to release relevant persons, so we hope that relevant people will stop interfering in China’s judicial sovereignty in such a manner.” [Source]

Also, on Wednesday, the Beijing offices of , an NGO with offices throughout China that focuses on public health and social justice issues, was raided by police, according to several people on Twitter. All five activists currently detained have all “supported or worked with” Yirenping: