Amnesty attacks China over ‘chilling’ detentions of female activists

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Originally published by The Telegraph on March 12, 2015

Human rights activists have called on Beijing to release five female campaigners who were detained last weekend after reportedly printing stickers and leaflets calling for an end to sexual harassment.

Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan and Wang Man are understood to be facing charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” that could land them in prison for up to five years.

The women were detained on the eve of International Women’s Day on March 8, a date friends and activists said they had planned to commemorate by plastering public transport with stickers reading: “Stop sexual harassment, let us stay safe” and “Go police, go arrest those who committed sexual harassment!”

The detentions appeared to be “government retaliation” for the women’s activism, said China Human Rights Defenders, a rights group that estimates around 1,500 Chinese activists have faced some kind of detention over the last two years.

“The charges against all five women should be dropped and the women immediately and unconditionally released,” William Nee, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International, said on Thursday.

“The Chinese authorities should be working with these women to address sexual harassment, not persecuting them.

“It is chilling that women calling on police to investigate sexual harassment end up as targets,” added Mr Nee.

“Demanding that women are not sexually harassed is in no way a criminal act.”

Li Tingting, a 25-year-old who has campaigned against domestic violence and for the introduction of unisex lavatories, was taken into custody at around 11.30pm on March 6, Yan Xin, her lawyer said.

Police forced their way into her Beijing home, refused to show identification and produced a blank warrant, he added.

Wang Qiushi, who represents Wei Tingting, another of the detained activists, said she had been arrested on March 6 after being summoned to her local police station.

“She thought it was just for a routine chat before the ‘Two Sessions’,” Mr Wang said, referring to China’s annual parliament that is currently under way in Beijing.

“But after that we lost contact with her.” Yan Xin, the lawyer for Li Tingting, said he had been allowed to visit his client on Thursday morning and found her “quite optimistic”.

“She believes that what she has done does not constitute such a crime,” he said.

The precise motives for this week’s detentions are not clear. However, since coming to power in late 2012, Xi Jinping, the president, has presided over a broad offensive against those Beijing views as potential opponents including human rights lawyers and academics.

Citizens who have attempted to organise even apparently innocuous gatherings or events appear to have faced the most severe sanctions.

Over the last two years authorities have smashed the New Citizens’ Movement, a network of liberal scholars and lawyers who had met over dinner to discuss China’s future. Xu Zhiyong, a legal scholar who was the group’s leader, was jailed for four years in January last year while another of its founders was forced into overseas exile.

In a “manifesto” read at his trial, Mr Xu argued that Beijing would face a popular uprising unless it abandoned the “unscrupulous and barbaric” politics of one-party rule and started a “peaceful transition to democracy”.

Additional reporting Ailin Tang

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