Monday is the deadline for prosecutors to file charges against the five feminist activists—Wei Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting, Wang Man and Zheng Churan—who have spent over a month in detention after planning a public campaign against sexual harassment. While they were originally held on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” police recommended that they be charged with “assembling a crowd to disturb public order.” From Faith Karimi at CNN:
Wang Qiushi, the lawyer for one of the women, Wei Tingting, said police had recommended on April 6 that prosecutors press charges of “assembling a crowd to disturb public order.”
Wang told CNN that prosecutors had to decide whether to pursue the charges within seven days of the submission — by Monday.
“But nobody knows what to expect till Monday; we can do nothing but wait.”[Source]
In a last minute plea, family members of the detained wrote to authorities asking for their release, according to a report from AFP:
The activists are “young, kind-hearted, and full of a sense of responsibility to society,” 10 of their parents and spouses wrote in a letter to Beijing prosecutors.
“These five girls, who we care for and love deeply, have not made a mistake, let alone committed a crime,” they said, adding “they have all striven to uphold our nation’s basic policy of gender equality”.
“Supporting gender equality and the interests of women is no crime!” [Source]
In a lengthy interview, China Change’s Yaxue Cao interviews University of Michigan women’s studies scholar Wang Zheng, who is actively involved with the feminist movement in China, about the case. Wang explains the impact the detentions had on a loose network of feminist activists with whom she communicates on WeChat:
Wang: So people in the group stopped talking, knowing that the police will be reading whatever they said. At a time like that, I felt I had to speak up. So I did. Through WeChat, I wanted to shout out to the police. The detention is so stupid. When you detain feminists on the eve of International Women’s Day, you not only trample over the basic national policy of gender equality, you also provoke the international feminists. So I wrote and wrote, hoping that they would be sensible and release the five. Of course they don’t give a damn to what I said. Others in the group became nervous, “Teacher Wang, stop talking, the police are watching.” I said, “I know. I’m talking to them.” The detention of the five drove others underground, because the police had intended to arrest more, not just these few.
YC: Why did the Chinese authorities do this? What’s their thinking?
Wang: They want to smash Yirenping (益仁平). Yirenping is a NGO [that promotes rights for the disabled, workplace discrimination, etc.] These young feminists are affiliated with Yirenping where they have a group working on gender equality. The authorities probably don’t want to make too big a splash by arresting the head of Yirenping, so they detained these young women to send the message. They succeeded in terrifying Yirenping. Once these young feminists were detained, everyone working at Yirenping knew this was about Yirenping. But the police are so ignorant, and they have no idea what a force the global feminists are.
YC: They also raided Yirenping’s Beijing office. And Beijing police investigated feminist activists who took part in the Occupy Men’s Room (“占领男厕所“) campaign a few years back. But the Chinese authorities are probably surprised by how big a global response they caused and how fast it occurred.
Wang: That’s because they are ignorant. These male Chinese officials have not an iota of an idea about the women’s rights movement and organizations around the world. Nor are they informed about the international situation. In their mind, these young feminists are less than nobody, with no power and no impact. [Source]