Civil Society Groups Treated as “Criminals” [Updated]
The five feminist activists who were held for five weeks in detention have been released under qǔbǎo hòushěn (取保候审), which subjects them to surveillance and restrictions during a continued investigation for up to one year. While the women (Wei Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting, Wang Man and Zheng Churan) are free from detention, they remain under tight restrictions that will limit their ability to participate in their activist work. Artist Ai Weiwei was released under the same provisions in 2011, and while his bail conditions were lifted after a year, he still is not permitted to travel abroad.
The activists were detained while planning a public awareness campaign against sexual harassment, but many observers believe they were targeted because they each played prominent roles in domestic NGOs, and were caught up in Xi Jinping’s ongoing crackdown on civil society. Edward Wong at the New York Times reports:
More than any other case since Mr. Xi rose to power in late 2012, the ordeal of the so-called Feminist Five gives a clear look at the dyspeptic and hostile view that Mr. Xi and other Chinese leaders have of civil society. It also reveals the lengths those officials will go to constrict grass-roots activism, even at the expense of international good will.
Public condemnations by American leaders and other prominent figures over the women’s detentions might have contributed to a high-level decision to release them on bail. But the Beijing police’s relentless push for criminal charges and the fact that the women were held for five weeks despite the international uproar show that the party was willing to tolerate China taking a hit to its global image in order to send a chilling message to Chinese activists, scholars and human rights advocates said.
“Since their actions were so successful in drawing public attention and in influencing public policy, the ‘sensitive’ label that will now be put on this type of campaign will likely set back China’s women’s rights movement, at least for some time,” said Maya Wang, an Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Sadly the five’s release does not indicate a change of view by the government towards civil society activists: It still treats them as criminals, rather than as partners in solving pressing social problems.” [Source]
One group in particular has been linked to the five activists: Yirenping, an NGO with offices nationwide that advocates on behalf of women’s rights, LGBT rights, and other public health and civil rights issues. During the detention of the activists, the Beijing offices of Yirenping were raided; all five activists have links to the group. The government has said that the group will be investigated for illegal activity, according to a report from Reuters:
“For the organization they are affiliated with, Beijing Yirenping Center, because this organization is suspected of violating the law, it will face punishment,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily news briefing.
It is unclear what punishment Yirenping will face.
Lu, who is in New York, did not respond to a request for comment. Calls to its Beijing office went unanswered.
For more than a month, Lu has campaigned for the release of the women, sending journalists information and setting up a Facebook group called “Free Chinese Feminists”.
Wang Zheng, a scholar who researches Chinese women and gender at the University of Michigan, said she believed Chinese authorities targeted the women activists because “they want to smash Yirenping”. [Source]
Public discussion of the activists’ release has been curbed on Weibo, according to Jason Ng:
— Jason Q. Ng (@jasonqng) April 14, 2015
Update (April 14, 9:45 pm PST): Yirenping issued an official response to the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the illegality of their work, translated by China Change. Their statement makes six points, one of which is:
As the first professional public interest group against discrimination in China, BYC has, in collaboration with many other players, consistently pushed the envelope on anti-discrimination and promotion of equal rights. After many years of hard work, the concept of “anti-discrimination” is increasingly gaining currency within the entire society. In the communique issued after the 4th Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, “the elimination of all employment discrimination” was also raised. The government declares the intention to fight discrimination on the one hand, and on the other raids the office of anti-discrimination organizations and makes accusation of “illegality.” It is hard for people to know whether the government policies are real, uniform or consistent. [Source]