The five feminist activists—Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan, and Wu Rongrong—who were detained in early March for planning a campaign against sexual harassment have now been held for more than 30 days. At this point, authorities are required to either proceed with formal charges against them, or release them. Radio Free Asia is reporting that police are recommending that prosecutors file charges:
Yan Xin, defense lawyer for Li Tingting, said the mental and physical conditions of the five women were pretty good.
He said Li Tingting had told him that during the preliminary arraignment, police said they had sent the files of all five people to the prosecutor, and prosecution authorities would decide whether to formally arrest them.
The cases of all five women have been reported to the procuratorate for permission for formal arrest and indictment, Yan Xin said.
He also said Li Tingting was psychologically ready for her possible formal arrest. [Source]
The five have reportedly been subjected to intensive and frequent interrogations in detention. Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times reports on the women’s previous activism and their current situation:
Lawyers for the women say the police have repeatedly flouted Chinese law. In addition to denying the women medication, the authorities failed to notify their families about the detentions, and in one instance, the police sat in on a meeting between Ms. Wei and her lawyer, Wang Qiushi.
“The interrogations have been exhausting,” Mr. Wang said by phone. “The police keep asking her the same questions over and over again and are pressuring her to sign a confession, which she refuses to do because she has not broken any law.”
The charge of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” carries a maximum five-year sentence in China, although it can be extended to 10 years if a defendant is convicted of organizing multiple public disturbances.
Officials at the Haidian District detention center where most of the women are being held declined to comment.
In the meantime, friends, relatives and fellow feminists are reeling. If the women are not released this week, it is likely they will be tried and convicted. [Source]
What Wu and her colleagues are now enduring is consistent with a broader government effort to strangle independent activism. Authorities have harassed and detained an ever expanding list of activists, and imprisoned others, but they have also tried to co-opt some groups by allowing them to provide services the government finds acceptable, so long as they abandon their activism.
This kind of “differentiated management” of nongovernmental organizations — punishing some but co-opting others — may work to neutralize some of the more outspoken groups. But ultimately the desires for change among ordinary people that make Wu and her friends’ campaigns so popular are unlikely to be answered through “authoritarian activism” alone. [Source]
The women’s supporters and associates in China have advocated for their release, though many have gone into hiding for fear of being detained themselves. Last week supporters sent a petition calling for their release and signed by more than 1000 people to authorities in China. One group of supporters has taken photos of themselves wearing masks of the detained women and uploaded them to social media. For the Asia Society blog, Eric Fish interviews one of the activists involved with this campaign:
Can you talk a bit about your background and those of the other women making these photos?
For safety reasons, I can’t talk about our specific identities except to say that we’re all feminist activists who have been paying attention to women’s interests for a long time. We are from all walks of life; some of us are students and some are workers from various places. We got to know each other through following feminist friends on social media and other Internet channels.
What prompted you to come together to create these photos?
We’re doing it to show solidarity with the women’s rights advocates that were arrested without any legitimate reason. They’ve done so much to promote women’s rights and they’re trying to make this country a better place with more gender equality. They have now been detained for one month and been deprived of freedom for one month. We hope through this activity to show our concerns and also make more people concerned for them. We want the five women to know that there are many people supporting them and we also want to show that it is impossible to arrest all feminist activists. [Source]
Hillary Clinton joined other supporters around the world by tweeting a call for the activists’ release:
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 7, 2015
The Chinese government responded by asking her to stay out of their business. From Reuters:
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said the matter was an internal affair.
“China is a country ruled by law. Relevant departments will handle the relevant case according to law. We hope that public figures in other countries can respect China’s judicial sovereignty and independence,” Hua told a daily news briefing. [Source]
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark U.N. World Conference on Women in Beijing, where then First Lady Hillary Clinton declared that “Women’s rights are human rights.” This fall, China will co-host a U.N. conference in New York to mark the anniversary. In an editorial, The Guardian points out this hypocrisy:
What is truly extraordinary is that China was calling for progress on gender equality even as the women were detained. State media announced in March that in September the country will co-host a UN women summit to mark the 20th anniversary of the world conference on women in Beijing, which declared that “women’s rights are human rights”. Mr Xi will stand alongside the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and will address the summit.
It is admirable that Mr Xi should emphasise an area of policy that many Chinese leaders still neglect. China has bolstered women’s lot in some regards, though inequality is still glaring in others and has worsened in some cases. Maternal mortality rates have plummeted and the government has made genuine if insufficient efforts to close the disturbing gap between male and female birth rates. A law on domestic violence is finally in view.
But to go ahead with this autumn’s meeting while continuing to lock up these women protesters would be a near-guarantee of embarrassment for Beijing. The EU, Britain and others have already demanded that the authorities let them go. Even if foreign leaders seek to turn a blind eye to the detentions, rights groups will not let them do so easily. In China itself, supporters have put aside fear of reprisals to call for their release, and the UN summit will take place in New York, where campaigners will be free to expose the evident contradiction. [Source]
See also profiles of the five women, via the New York Times, and “Will China’s detention of feminist activists shut the movement up or make it louder?” from Index on Censorship.