Cam­paign­ers wel­come China re­lease for 5 fem­i­nists

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

Cam­paign­ers on Tues­day wel­comed China’s re­lease of five fem­i­nist ac­tivists held for more than a month, say­ing the sur­prise move af­ter an in­ter­na­tional out­cry showed Bei­jing does some­times re­spond to out­side pres­sure.

The five, all aged 32 or younger, were taken into cus­tody shortly be­fore In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day last month as they were pre­par­ing to hand out leaflets about sex­ual ha­rass­ment on public trans­port.

The Euro­pean Union, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and his pre­de­ces­sor Hil­lary Clin­ton had all is­sued calls for their free­dom, while Bei­jing said it was an in­ter­nal is­sue.

Their lawyers said all five were re­leased on bail on Mon­day, the dead­line for pros­e­cu­tors to for­mally charge them.

But au­thor­i­ties said Tues­day an anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion group con­nected with them, Yiren­ping, was sus­pected of break­ing the law and would be pun­ished “in ac­cor­dance with the law.”

China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party does not tol­er­ate or­ga­nized op­po­si­tion, and of­ten clamps down on small ac­tivist groups, with con­trols tight­en­ing since Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping came to power in 2012.

Nonethe­less the women’s de­ten­tions were seen by rights groups as un­usu­ally harsh given the small scale of their stunts, and pre­vi­ous pos­i­tive cov­er­age they re­ceived in China’s state-run me­dia.

If Chi­nese ac­tivists are charged, pros­e­cu­tion and a guilty ver­dict nor­mally fol­low but the women’s re­lease showed that Bei­jing had bowed to the “un­prece­dented global re­sponse” to their case, said Maya Wang, China re­searcher for Hu­man Rights Watch.

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping is ex­pected to co-host a women’s sum­mit at the U.N. in Septem­ber, and rights groups called for a boy­cott of the event un­less the five ac­tivists were re­leased — a po­ten­tial em­bar­rass­ment for Bei­jing, which is seek­ing to build an im­age as a “re­spon­si­ble stake­holder” on the global stage.

“The op­tics of this ar­rest were ob­vi­ously pretty ter­ri­ble,” said Joshua Rosen­zweig, a hu­man rights re­searcher based in Hong Kong.

The EU del­e­ga­tion to China said in a state­ment it noted the re­lease “with re­lief.”

‘Ruled by law’

The five were held in Bei­jing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou dur­ing a meet­ing of China’s rub­ber­stamp par­lia­ment in the cap­i­tal, when se­cu­rity is stepped up na­tion­wide and ac­tivists of­ten de­tained or warned not to travel.

The fact that they were linked to ac­tions in dif­fer­ent Chi­nese cities may also have raised con­cerns among Com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties, de­spite them high­light­ing is­sues such as do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and the poor pro­vi­sion of women’s toi­lets.

Po­lice orig­i­nally told lawyers the ac­tivists were sus­pected of “pick­ing quar­rels and pro­vok­ing trou­ble,” a vague charge in­creas­ingly used by au­thor­i­ties un­der Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to de­tain and jail pro­test­ers for hold­ing smallscale demon­stra­tions.

They later changed the ac­cusa- tion to “il­le­gal as­sem­bly,” which car­ries the same max­i­mum pun­ish­ment of five years im­pris­on­ment.

Their re­lease comes with con­di­tions and Liang Xiao­jun, one of their at­tor­neys, said: “In the eyes of the po­lice, they are still sus­pects ... they will need to reg­u­larly up­date au­thor­i­ties on their where­abouts.”

Sev­eral of the women were in­volved with the Chi­nese ad­vo­cacy group Yiren­ping, which cam­paigns to end dis­crim­i­na­tion against women, the dis­abled, peo­ple with HIV/AIDS and oth­ers.

For­eign min­istry spokesman Hong Lei told re­porters Tues­day that Yiren­ping was “sus­pected of vi­o­lat­ing the law and will face pun­ish­ment in ac­cor­dance with the law.”

He de­nied Bei­jing had bowed to for­eign pres­sure over the five, say­ing China was a coun­try “ruled by law.”

In a state­ment, Yiren­ping co- founder Lu Jun called the women’s detention “a glar­ing injustice” and said the or­ga­ni­za­tion was “im­pressed by ad­vo­cacy for their re­lease from in­side China and out­side China.”

“What they’ve done has ac­tu­ally fur­thered legal pro­tec­tion of women’s rights and strength­ened the rule of law in China,” Lu said.

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