Sensitive Words: Release of the “Feminist Five”

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Following their release from detention on April 13, feminist , Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wu Rongrong, and Wang Man have faced continued harassment as they remain under a legal provision called qǔbǎo hòushěn (取保候审), which subjects them to a continued investigation for up to one year. Their lawyers were first told that the women were being held on suspicion of “picking fights and provoking trouble,” but police later recommended that prosecutors press charges for “assembling a crowd to disturb public order.” They were not formally charged before being released on bail.

Since their release, the women have been under tight surveillance, while their associates and supporters have also faced travel and other restrictions:

The government is tamping down any online discussion of the so-called Feminist Five by censoring search results on Weibo, as they did during their five week detention. All five of the women’s names in combination with “release” [for example Li Tingting + release (李婷婷+释放)] were blocked from search results, as were the combinations of Li Tingting + women’s rights + person (李婷婷+女权+人); Zheng Churan + women’s rights + person (郑楚然+女权+人); Wei Tingting + women’s rights + person (韦婷婷+女权+人); Wu Rongrong + women’s rights + figure (武嵘嵘+女权+人士); Wang Man + women’s rights (王曼+女权).

Human rights groups and supporters, both internationally and within China, have called on authorities to drop all potential charges against the women and to stop treating them like criminals. Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports for the New York Times on a petition signed by supporters in China, which reads in part:

The authorities must halt criminal investigations into the women, drop charges and stop treating them as “criminally suspicious persons.”

Financially compensate them for wrongful detention, publicly apologize for their treatment and discipline the police officers involved in the case.

Return to two civil society organizations with which three of the women were affiliated any property seized by the police during raids on the organizations’ premises.

Return to the women their property, stop harassing feminist activists, protect women’s rights on issues such as domestic violence and sexual harassment. [Source]

Online, the women activists have received many words of support, while a vocal minority has expressed anger at the activists in terms that are reminiscent of some of the misogynist language often employed on Twitter and other social media against prominent women who express their opinions online. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian of Foreign Policy writes:

A significant minority of commenters alternately mocked the women’s campaign, blasted the entire gender for being demanding, or denied the need for feminism in China altogether. “Real feminism should be ‘I am willing to bear the same social responsibility as men,’” wrote one 27-year-old man in a popular comment. “But ‘I want this, I want that, I want everything’ — that’s not feminism, it’s ‘queenism.’” Another wrote, “Feminism is like so-called ‘animal rights activism’ — they’re actually extremist organizations.” One male user in Beijing, a graduate of a martial arts academy, wrote. “Seriously, aren’t women’s rights in China the best in the world?” He concluded that those looking for a true example of gender inequality should “hurry off to India.” A man in the northern city of Tianjin, whose Weibo profile featured regular posts giving women advice about how to make themselves appealing to men, commented, “Nowadays it’s dangerous to be a man.” [Source]

Read more about the “Feminist Five” via CDT.

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