The five women’s rights activists who were detained while planning to distribute stickers to raise awareness of sexual harassment remain in detention in Beijing on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” But as Elizabeth Lynch points out at her China Law and Policy blog, even under Chinese law, the women may not have committed any crime:
But if you think detaining people for leafleting an issue we can all get behind is scary, here is the real frightening part: these five women – Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man and Li Tingting – never actually committed a crime, even under Chinese law. By detaining these women prior to March 8 – when they were going to distribute their stickers and pamphlets – the women never caused a public disturbance as required by Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law. Pu Zhiqiang, Cao Shunli, Xu Zhiyong, all detained, arrested or jailed for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” were at least able to partake in their “public disturbance” before the authorities took them away. These women did not. At most, in their attempt to make this a nation-wide campaign, they amassed an online following, all eager to partake in the March 8 events.
But, as Jeremy Daum at China Law Translate has noted, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and Supreme People’s Procuratorate’s (SPP) Joint Interpretation of Article 293 (July 2013) makes it clear that causing a disturbance by picking quarrels must happen in some kind of public venue – a bus station, a market, a train station, a park, or “other public venue.” In prosectuting an Article 293(4) case, the courts are required to analyze the totality of the circumstances, including the type of public venue, the number of people attending the event, etc. (See Article 5 of the Joint Interpretation of Article 293).
Further, as Daum has highlighted, even the SPC’s and SPP’s controversial Joint Interpretation on Internet Speech Crimes (Sept. 2013), which does interpret Article 293(4) of the Criminal Law, would only apply in situations where the individual has spread rumors on the internet or other online network. The only public prosecution under Article 293(4) involving the internet – the case of blogger Qin Houhou – is precisely this situation. In addition to being charged with violating Artcile 293(4) – the picking quarrels provision – Qin was also charged and convicted of criminal slander.
By criminally detaining these women, the Chinese police have stepped up this game, making a formal arrest and prosecution more likely. [Source]
The five women—who were detained along with several colleagues who have since been released—were among the most active in China’s feminist movement, and are believed to be the first activists detained for promoting women’s rights. Chang Ping writes in the South China Morning Post that as women’s rights advocates have become more active and confrontational in their tactics, they are now joining the ranks of political dissidents who have been increasingly targeted by authorities in recent years:
In recent years, some young women who see the need to carry on the fight for women’s rights but are unwilling to retread the old paths have been experimenting with different ways of getting their messages across, within limited means and while taking care not to anger the authorities. Using new media and street rallies, the campaigns they have organised so far – to “Occupy the men’s toilets”, oppose sexual harassment on public transport and protest against gender-biased recruitment by companies, for example – appear innocuous. However, both the way they operate and their sharp criticism of Chinese patriarchy and the authoritarian political regime it props up have put the women in as much danger as the other rights activists.
Since taking power, Xi Jinping has shown no mercy in his crackdown on dissidence and protest movements: the groups New Citizens Movement, Transition Institute, China Rural Library and others were shut down; activists Xu Zhiyong, Ilham Tohti and Liu Ping have been jailed, while Pu Zhiqiang , Gao Yu and Guo Yushan are awaiting trial in detention.
Li Tingting, one of the women detained, first got the attention of authorities when she planned the “Occupy Men’s Toilets” movement mentioned by Chang, a cheeky criticism of the gender inequality in public toilets. For his forthcoming book, Eric Fish interviewed Li about her work and the ways authorities have used her personal life to try to steer her away from activism. ChinaFile has posted an excerpt:
Later that evening, six marked police cars with ten uniformed officers pulled up to her parents’ home in rural Beijing. They took Li’s terrified father to a restaurant, lavishing the same 600-yuan banquet on him that his daughter had enjoyed. For him they even brought an offer to the table, saying that if he could get Li to discontinue her activities, they could arrange a cushy government job for her at the local Women’s Federation. “If my family had something—such as if we owned a factory—they could just threaten to shut it down,” Li speculated. “But my family had nothing to lose, so they offered me a job.”
Li’s father had always pushed her to try entering civil service and was disappointed and humiliated when she instead delved into feminist causes. But somehow, she now had a shortcut to his dream dangling right in front of her. After living a simple rural life for so long, he yearned to see his daughter enter the Golden Rice Bowl and improve the family’s fortunes.
But Li did not bite. She continued giving interviews and kept posting on Weibo, so authorities stepped up the pressure. They showed up again and took her to their car, but there was no fancy dinner this time; just a brief session of “good cop, bad cop.” They told her that defying their orders constituted a betrayal of “trust between friends.” They also wined and dined her father a few more times, but it became clear that he had no power over her. She was already planning the next demonstration. [Source]
Rachel Lu of Foreign Policy interviews feminist journalist Zhao Sile, who, like Chang Ping, ties the detentions in with the stepped-up activism by women’s rights groups, and the simultaneous crackdown on civil society groups:
FP: What was the state of feminist activism in China prior to the March 8 detention?
Zhao: In the past, the public paid very little attention to feminist issues, but that has gradually changed in the last few years. We’ve had more support from women outside feminist circles and could mobilize more volunteers as more people began to pay attention. Starting around 2010, Chinese feminists became more active by taking our causes to the streets with song and dance performances, and feminist activism was one of the most visible forms of activism in China. In the beginning [of that period], we focused on specific issues, like the skewed gender ratio of public bathrooms and employment discrimination.
But starting in 2014, our relationship with the authorities became quite tense as our activism has grown in depth and breadth. For the party-state, no socially active organizations and individuals are welcome, so it’s inevitable that we would become a target of the government organs that prioritize “stability maintenance” measures. We just never thought detention of our activists would come at this particular point because we believed that young women had some space to express their views. But now it seems that that space has disappeared completely. [Source]
In an interview with CNN’s Kristi Lu Stout, Leta Hong Fincher discusses the detentions and the current state of women’s rights in China:
Global Voices Online compiles global reaction to the detentions.