Chinese women’s rights activists arrested after planning protest over sexual harassment

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Originally published by ABC on March 12, 2015

Five women’s rights activists who were reportedly planning to raise awareness of sexual harassment on public transport are being criminally detained in China.

Li Maizi (also known as Li Tingting), Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wang Man and Wei Tingting were taken away by police in the lead up to International Women’s Day last weekend.

They live in the eastern Chinese cities of Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou.

Human rights groups said the women had planned to distribute stickers and stage an event to raise awareness about sexual harassment on public transport.

China Human Rights Defenders says the women, who are aged between 26 and 30, are now being held for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and that the women’s lawyers have not been able to speak with anyone in the group.

Police have 30 days to decide whether to press charges.

However, it is not clear if they have formally notified the activists’ families.

The women’s detention happened just after the opening of China’s annual parliamentary session the National People’s Congress, which is a politically sensitive period.

All of the women have previously campaigned for gender equality in China.

Three in the group are also known to have spoken out against domestic violence in the country, highlighting an issue that is under the spotlight as Chinese lawmakers prepare to review its first ever national law on domestic violence.

“These women and their activism and their voice and their bringing attention to the issue while keeping the dialogue going — is a major factor in the law getting to where it is now,” said Kim Lee, who campaigned strongly against domestic violence in China after going public with her account of physical abuse.

Ms Lee was once married to Li Yang, a famous English language teacher on the mainland.

Rights groups believe tighter controls are being placed on activists in the country.

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