Friends of two Guangzhou-based activists who have been incommunicado since Sunday fear that they have been detained and may be facing prosecution. Prominent #MeToo activist Huang Xueqin (Sophia Huang) had been planning to leave Guangzhou for Shenzhen on September 19, and fly from Hong Kong to London the following day. She was due to begin a Master’s program at the University of Sussex as a recipient of the Chevening Scholarship. Her friend Wang Jianbing, a longtime advocate for workers with occupational diseases, was planning to see her off.
[2/2] #HuangXueqin, a journalist who covered the Hong Kong protests, also investigated on sexual harassment cases and supported #metoo movement in #China. In 2019, she was arrested for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" and later released on bail. https://t.co/hppSuTbkgk
— RSF (@RSF_inter) September 22, 2021
Huang Xueqin—a journalist and #MeToo activist–and Wang Jianbing–a longtime civil society figure supporting marginalized groups– went missing.
— CHRD人权捍卫者 (@CHRDnet) September 21, 2021
As days passed without news of the two activists, Huang Xueqin’s university and future host country weighed in on her disappearance. The International Federation of Journalists site quoted a spokesperson from the University of Sussex: “‘We are concerned about the safety and whereabouts of our student,’ he said. ‘Our staff are liaising with Chevening to seek further details.'” On Friday, The Telegraph reported that the U.K. Foreign Office had become involved, as well: “’We are urgently looking into reports that friends of Huang Xueqin lost contact with her on 19 September,’ a Foreign Office spokesperson said.”
Guo Rui, reporting for the South China Morning Post, detailed concerns about the welfare of the two activists:
[Friend Robert Cheng] said he was concerned that like other activists Huang and Wang could be accused of inciting subversion.
“Under the [subversion] charge, they may face heavy punishment and torture,” Cheng said.
“Huang Xueqin only wanted to go to Sussex to study and was told by the authorities last month that they would not stop her [leaving China]. She had her passport and visa.
“So she had actually kept a low profile for months hoping she could make the trip.” [Source]
Chinese Human Rights Defenders described the possible charges against the two, and how their disappearance appears to be part of a larger ongoing crackdown on civil society groups:
At least one mutual friend of the two was summoned by police the same day of their disappearance. This friend was reportedly questioned by authorities about peaceful, private gatherings with friends at Wang Jianbing’s residence.
Friends of Ms. Huang and Mr. Wang fear that they have been detained by the public security of Zhuhai District in Guangzhou and that Mr. Wang may face a charge of “inciting subversion of state authority” for hosting gatherings at his home. Chinese authorities have frequently used this state security crime against members of civil society, including for peaceful gatherings at private residences.
“Chinese officials are likely launching another round of crackdowns on civil society ahead of next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics. Authorities have been going after any attempt to form associations, assemble peacefully, or to build communities of mutual support, apparently seeing them as ‘threats’ to national security,” said CHRD senior researcher Ramona Li. [Source]
A journalist who once worked for popular publications such as Southern Metropolis Weekly and Xinkuaibao, Huang Xueqin began fighting for women’s rights in 2017 after going public about her own experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace. Since then, she has been a tireless advocate for the rights of women, civil society groups, and ordinary citizens. This is not the first time she has been detained by Chinese authorities: in October 2019, she was arrested on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” which could have resulted in a five-year prison sentence, after publishing an online essay about the protests in Hong Kong. She was held for three months in residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL), and released in January 2020. Although she resumed her advocacy work, she was subject to continuing surveillance and restrictions, as Rights Corridor noted:
Huang was present at a million-strong protest in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019 against plans to allow extradition to mainland China, and was detained for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” in October 2019, before being released on bail in January 2020, a status that often involves ongoing surveillance and restrictions on a person’s activities.
Her travel documents were also confiscated after her return, preventing her from beginning a law degree in Hong Kong the fall of 2019.
Huang had previously assisted in the investigation and reporting of a number of high-profile sexual harassment allegations against professors at Peking University, Wuhan University of Technology, Henan University and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. [Source]
Her friend and fellow activist Wang Jianbing has made significant contributions to the health and welfare of Chinese workers. RFA provided some background on his advocacy work:
Wang started to work in rural development after graduating in 2005, before joining the Guangzhou Gongmin NGO in 2014 [as] director and coordinator for youth work.
In 2018, he started advocacy and legal support work on behalf of workers with occupational diseases, and was a vocal supporter of China’s #MeToo movement. [Source]
Tyrannical regimes wish to erase the line that divides public and private life. Their intent is to establish mutual misunderstanding, to make each other feel alienated, isolated, or antagonistic. In times like these, we need to make more eye contact with our friends, grow our empathy for others, make time for chitchat, and offer each other support and encouragement. Give the people in the midst of the action some warmth and energy so that they can press on.
[…] When the despot arrives and powers collude, they may use all their might to “maintain stability,” they may censor everything. Besides staying vigilant and resisting as much as we can, we must improve our health and strengthen our resolve. It could be that whoever outlives the other, wins. [Source]
In another essay from Matters, Huang Xueqin details her experience marching in protest against activists being kidnapped in Hong Kong and forcibly transported to mainland China. She ends on a rousing note, urging people not to remain passive or apathetic in the face of repression:
Under the powerful machinery of the party-state, ignorance and fear can be cultivated, information and news can be blocked, truth and reality can be distorted. But once you have personally experienced it, once you have witnessed it for yourself, you cannot feign ignorance, nor give up recording it, nor sit and wait for death. The darkness is boundless, and but a trace of truth and light remains: this trace must not be surrendered. [Chinese]
Huang Xueqin’s bravery stands out during a time when all activists, even those advocating for basic protections and dignity for women, have to tread carefully. Fellow #MeToo activist Xianzi detailed this culture of fear in another powerful essay, published in the journal Made in China:
In my experience, to avoid certain accusations—that we are being manipulated by ‘foreign forces’ or engaging in ‘premeditated #MeToo accusations’—and the risks that come with them, feminists must emphasise that all they are doing is providing support. They should also avoid having too much social media contact with the person involved. We often receive written submissions from victims of sexual assault, but we encourage them to register for an online ID themselves and to post their own appeals, after which we can repost and spread the word. At the same time, if we establish private contacts with a party involved in a sexual assault case and provide legal and voluntary assistance, it is necessary to keep this confidential, even to the point that we only communicate via Signal or other secure platforms. In short, we cannot give the impression that feminists, and especially activists, are personally connected to the victims of sexual assault. [Source]
Fears in China for missing #MeToo activist and labour campaigner. Friends fear that Huang Xueqin could be charged with subversion and face severe sentencing. //But for what? speaking up for #MeToo victims? https://t.co/TgGadghpMY via @scmpnews
— Li Yuan (@LiYuan6) September 22, 2021