China Detains Women’s Rights Activist Over Support For Hong Kong Democracy

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Originally published by Radio Free Asia on OCTOBER 31, 2014

Authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on Friday detained a prominent women’s rights activist after she organized an online activity in support of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.

Ye Haiyan, who founded the Women’s Rights Workshop, was taken away by police in her home district of Xinzhou after her home was searched, a Beijing-based rights lawyer told RFA.

“Police went to her home and confiscated some of her things,” rights lawyer Tang Jitian said. “I am guessing it’s because she organized some activities on and offline.”

“I can’t say for sure, but it is likely to have at least something to do with her support for Occupy Central,” Tang said.

Ye’s boyfriend Ling Haobo said around a dozen police officers had arrived at her home at around 11.30 a.m. local time on Friday, and had confiscated two notebook computers, three cellphones, and an external hard drive.

“I was at the door when the police came knocking,” Ling said, adding that police had stayed around 20 minutes. “Then they told Ye Haiyan to go with them to the police station, but they didn’t produce any documentation,” he said.

“They didn’t say whether it was for questioning, or whether it was criminal detention,” he said. “They just took her away, and left five officers behind to go through her things.”

He said Ye had recently joined an online movement in which participants shaved their heads to show support for Occupy Central.

“Several dozen people in mainland China shaved their heads,” Ling said.

Supporters held in China

The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group, which collates and translates reports from rights groups inside China, says it has documented 72 cases of detention of people showing public support for the Occupy Central movement.

Of those, 27 people were criminally detained and three were handed administrative detentions, while 32 remain in custody without charge. A further 11 were released, it said.

It said the most recent detention was that of Guangdong-based activist Su Changlan, who is being held by Foshan municipal authorities on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power” after she took part in Hong Kong-related activities in the province.

But Tang said the true number of Hong Kong-related detentions may be much higher.

“It’s more than 100 so far, although we haven’t yet updated those numbers,” he said.

Beijing has repeatedly said the five-week-old Occupy movement is “illegal,” but Hong Kong officials have taken a more diplomatic stance since police use of tear gas brought hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets to swell the movement, and sent video and social media accounts of the Sept. 28 clashes streaming live around the world.

Since then, the mostly peaceful protests have occupied major highways and intersections near government headquarters in Admiralty district and in the busy shopping districts of Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, amid sporadic clashes with police and anti-Occupy protesters.

‘Fake universal suffrage’

The Occupy Central movement, also known as the “Umbrella Movement” after protesters used umbrellas to ward off police attacks with tear gas and pepper spray, is calling on Beijing to allow public nomination of candidates in 2017 elections, and for the resignation of embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament the National People’s Congress (NPC) announced on Aug. 31 that while all of Hong Kong’s five million voters will cast a ballot for the first time in the 2017 poll for a new chief executive, they may only choose between candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing nomination committee.

Pan-democratic politicians and Occupy protesters have dismissed the Aug. 31 ruling as “fake universal suffrage,” and called on the Hong Kong government to renegotiate the election arrangements with Beijing, demanding Leung’s resignation over the use of tear gas.

Meanwhile, student leaders were debating on Friday whether to try traveling to Beijing to press their case for public nomination of candidates with the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

“To go would be to tell the world, the Hong Kong government, and Beijing that the Aug. 31 ruling must be rescinded,” Hong Kong Federation of Students chief Alex Chow said.

But he said there is no guarantee the group will be allowed across the border. While Hong Kong residents have a special internal pass allowing them to visit mainland China, the authorities have refused entry to critics of Beijing in the past.

“We just want a dialogue with the authorities,” Chow said. “If Beijing doesn’t let us in, they will be sending the message to Hong Kong that the Aug. 31 framework isn’t willing to take the opinions of Hong Kong people into account.”

‘Very brave thing to do’

A university student surnamed Chan encamped at an occupied stretch of highway near government headquarters in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district said he is in favor of the plan.

“But I would be afraid for my safety if it was me,” Chan said. “Nobody knows what could happen, once you get into mainland China.”

But he added: “I think that this would be a very brave thing to do, that might take the whole movement forward another step.”

A second protester surnamed Auyeung said little would be gained from such a trip, however.

“They wouldn’t necessarily be allowed across the border, and officials might refuse to meet with them even if they did,” he said.

“And even if they got a meeting, the chances of a result are very slim.”

He said dwindling numbers at the three main Occupy sites make the likelihood of police action to clear the protests more likely.

Comparison to slavery

Meanwhile, thousands of people signed an online petition denouncing reported comments by an HSBC Holdings board member in which she likened Hong Kong protesters’ demands for democracy to the emancipation of slaves.

Laura Cha, who is also a member of Hong Kong’s cabinet, the Executive Council, chairwoman of the city’s Financial Services Development Council, and a member of the NPC, told an event in Paris:

“American slaves were liberated in 1861 but did not get voting rights until 107 years later. So why can’t Hong Kong wait for a while?”

Cha’s comments were reported in the English-language Standard newspaper on Thursday.

Her boss, HSBC’s Asia-Pacific chief Peter Wong said he had “noticed” Cha’s remarks, but that he would “refrain from commenting on political items and issues” in line with the bank’s policy.

Some 6,000 people had signed the English-language petition protesting Cha’s comments and demanding an apology by Friday evening local time.

Reported by Qiao Long and Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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