International Women’s Day Marked by Detention and Harassment of Women Human Rights Defenders

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Today, as government officials make speeches in many cities to mark the International Women’s Day, a national holiday in China, two women human rights defenders, Ma Yalian and Mao Hengfeng, remain detained by Shanghai police, family visits denied, and detention locations undisclosed. Other women activists, including AIDS activists, housing petitioners, and hunger strikers are under police surveillance or house arrest. CRD urges the Chinese government to honour the International Women’s Day with sincerity and respect their basic human rights by immediately releasing these activists and lifting surveillance ordinances.

In mid-February, 2006, police in Shanghai rounded up activists who have joined the hunger strike protest or tried to petition authorities, among them were protesters against forced evictions including Ma Yalian. Her home and computer were searched.

Mao Hengfeng was detained on February 13, 2006, for joining a hunger strike protest and trying to petition authorities. A “surveillance” decision on her was issued by Shanghai PSB, but the police refused to tell Mao’s lawyer where she was being held.

Around 10 pm on February 25, Li Jianhong sent the text message from her cell phone “They’ve abducted me in an alleyway” to Jiang Meili, the wife of imprisoned Shanghai lawyer Zheng Enchong. She has been missing since. All efforts to contact LI have failed. Ms. Li made public her decision to join the hunger strike marathon led by the Beijing lawyer Gao Zhisheng in the morning of February 25. Ms. Li was released on February 27 after she was forced to sign a paper saying she would not join the hunger strike.

CRD would like to honour other women human rights activists including Ding Zilin, Hou Wenzhuo, and Gao Yaojie on this International Women’s Day. For their courageous activities to promote the protection of human rights, they have been subjected to harassment and ill-treatment by authorities.


Ma Yalian(马亚莲), female, 42. Former employee of the Shanghai Tools Company. On February 19, 2004, she was arrested for her active role in petitioning the government to address grievances involving forced evictions. On March 16, 2004, the Shanghai Reeducation Through Labor Management Committee decided to send her to a RETL camp for one year and six months for “disturbing social order and security.” She was detained at the Huangpu District Detention Center in Shanghai and was released on August 19, 2005 after serving her full term at the RETL camp.

Ma herself had made repeated complaints after her family was evicted as a result of an urban redevelopment plan in Shanghai. For her actions, she was sentenced in August 2001 to one year in a RETL camp. She had reported being beaten while serving her time.

Ma Yalian was punished for a second time apparently for posting articles on the Internet exposing failings in China’s administrative complaint and adjudication system. At about the same time the authorities tightened up censorship and surveillance on the Internet. Ma posted articles about harassment and abuses both on the legal professional website and on the overseas website, which is run by Falun Gong activists. In these postings, for example, Ma disclosed that there were incidents of individuals committing suicide in front of government petitioning offices. (For more information on Ms. Ma, see Article_Show.asp?ArticleID=350 )

Mao Hengfeng(毛恒凤), female, ruled by authorities to be sent to a “Re-education Through Labour” (RETL) camp for 18 months after she repeatedly protested official abuses of her rights. She was released on September 12, 2005. Since then, she has continued her protests and has suffered further abuses along with her husband, Wu Xuewei, who has also been subjected to beatings and may face criminal charges. Both are at risk of persecution, including arbitrary detention and torture or ill-treatment.

Mao, the mother of twins, was reportedly dismissed from her job in 1988 because she became pregnant for a second time with a third child, in violation of China’s “one child” family planning regulations. Mao Hengfeng refused to undergo an abortion and she was subsequently incarcerated at a psychiatric hospital, where she was forcibly injected with various drugs. She nevertheless continued the pregnancy, giving birth to a baby girl prematurely on February 28, 1989. She was then notified in March 1989 that she had been dismissed from her job for missing sixteen days at work.

Mao won an appeal to authorities about her dismissal according to regulations under China’s Labour Law. She got her job back according to a ruling by the Shanghai Municipal Labour Arbitration Committee. However, the soap factory where she worked disputed the ruling, and appealed to Shanghai Yangpu District Court. Mao was seven months pregnant with her fourth child at the time of the appeal hearing. The judge reportedly told her that if she terminated her pregnancy, he would rule in her favor.

Mao Hengfeng was detained after she traveled to Beijing to petition state authorities at the time of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in March 2004. Authorities ruled that her petitioning “disturbed social order.” Her welfare allowances were discontinued when she was sent to the RETL camp in April 2004, leaving her family in severe financial difficulties.

Several days after her release, Mao Hengfeng and her family were reportedly held under a form of “house arrest” from 23-27 September, 2005. Officials tried to prevent her from contacting a UN office in Beijing about the abuses she had suffered. She was placed under house arrest again from September 29, to October 11, 2005 during the National Day holidays and the fifth plenary session of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Li Jianhong, (李剑虹,pen name “Xiao Qiao”),female, 38, Internet writer, member of Independent Chinese PEN. Li Jianhong graduated from Huadong Normal University with a MA in North American studies in 1994 and has since worked as a teacher, journalist and administrative manager. Ms. Li is a member of the independent Chinese PEN, a Shanghai-based frequent contributor to and editor of online independent publications such as “Enlightenment Forum” (qi meng lun tan) and “Free China Forum” (zi you zhongguo lun tan), an advocate for freedom of expression and the press. Due to her activism, she had been under close surveillance and frequently harassed by police. Before her abduction, she had lost the last of several jobs all due to police pressuring companies to let her go. (For more information in Chinese about Ms. Li, see Article_Show.asp?ArticleID=211 )

Hou Wenzhuo(侯文卓), female, 35, a former scholar, founder and director of Empowerment and Rights Institute China (EARI, ren zhi quan, based in Beijing. Since the group was established in 2004, she has been monitored and sometimes harassed by police. In recent months, the EARI office has been searched and was eventually forced to close down. During the visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, at the end of August 2005, Hou was put under house arrest in an attempt to prevent her from attempting to meet with the Commissioner.

Hou has been working on migrants’ rights, rural elections, and land rights in the past few years. She participated in a training with the UN in Geneva in 2003. After her return, she set up EARI mainly to focus on rural petitioners who come to Beijing to request that the central authorities to investigate their grievances. EARI followed the land dispute and farmers’ protests in Nanhai County, and later the Taishi villagers’ sit-ins demanding removing a corrupt village chief. Between June and September 2005, EARI associates filed daily briefings and urgent calls for public/international media attention to violent crackdowns by local police. Some of them were questioned, at least one person remains in custody, another was severely beaten outside Beijing. In October, Hou was followed and questioned by police while trying to collect information in Guizhou Province about complaints from dislocated villagers due to a dam project. Under threats, Hou Wenzhuo left China for the US in November 2005.

Ding Zilin(丁子霖), female, university professor. Since she lost her 17-year-old son in the 1989 massacre, she has led a group of the family members of victims, “the Tiananmen Mothers,” to seek justice. For the last sixteen years, she has been at the forefront of a network of people who have worked to document the brutal crackdown in a systematic fashion by collecting the names of victims and recording their individual stories. For this, she has been subjected interrogations, threats of violence, periods of detention and house arrest.

In March 2004, Ding Zilin was arrested outside her home in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. Police did not produce any warrants. Two other members of the Tiananmen Mothers in Beijing, Zhang Xianling and Huang Jinpin also were arrested and had their homes searched, and personal items were confiscated. Police told them that “the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign and the Tiananmen Mothers as a group were reactionary organizations through which entities inside and outside of China were conspiring to harm national security and to incite subversion of state power.” The authorities also threatened the “Mothers” that they must not submit a video CD presenting the testimonies of six family members of June Fourth victims, through the Hong Kong-based support group, the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign, to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in Geneva.

Gao Yaojie(高耀洁), female, 74, a retired gynecologist and HIV/AIDS activist, began treating people with HIV and AIDS and taking action to expose the officially covered-up epidemic in 1996 in the villages of Henan Province. She has been harassed, threatened, and barred from meeting journalists or traveling abroad to receive an award.

In the 1990s, impoverished farmers in Henan sold their blood at government-run blood collection centers. In the rush to maximize profits, safety precautions were largely ignored. The blood, untested for diseases, was pooled and re-injected into the sellers. The result was a high rate of cross infection. In some villages, the HIV infection rate was estimated at 65%.

Dr. Gao, who traveled to the villages to treat the villagers, discovered this and tried to alert authorities about the epidemic. She used her small retirement pension to treat patients and educate the farmers about HIV/AIDS, often under harassment by authorities who denied responsibility in the spread of HIV/AIDS and tried to cover it up.

After Dr. Gao spoke to foreign reporters about the blood-borne epidemic in Henan, she was warned not to disclose “state secrets” to “foreign, anti-China forces.” And Chinese reporters were warned not to report on the scandal.

On 31 May 2001, Dr. Gao was unable to receive the Jonathan Mann Health and Human Rights award in Washington, DC. The Chinese government denied her permission to travel abroad.

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