Urging Treatment for Activist in Jail in China, 16 Are Briefly Detained Themselves

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Originally published by The New York Times on March 20, 2015

HONG KONG — Sixteen people who went to a Beijing detention center on Friday to push for medical treatment for one of five detained women’s rights activists were themselves taken into custody, according to one of the 16 detained and a website that documents rights violations. They were all released by 3 a.m. Saturday.

The 16 are supporters of Wu Rongrong, who along with four other activists was detained by the police ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, when they planned to demonstrate against sexual harassment on public transportation. Ms. Wu, who has hepatitis, was not receiving proper medical care, Ye Jinghuan, an activist who was one of those detained Friday, said in a telephone interview.

The group went to the Haidian Detention Center in western Beijing to deliver a note asking if Ms. Wu was being forced to sleep on the floor, as she had told her lawyer, and whether she had been sent to a hospital for treatment, Ms. Ye said. They were taken away to several police stations after about an hour, Ms. Ye said as she was being held. When called later in the afternoon, Ms. Ye’s phone had been turned off. Her detention, as well as that of the other 15 supporters, was subsequently reported by Weiquan Wang, a Chinese website that reports on human rights.

The plight of the five Chinese feminists attracted global attention not only because their arrests took place ahead of International Women’s Day, but also because of the severity of the government’s response to activity that in many societies would be considered a sign of healthy civic engagement. The five had planned to place stickers on transit vehicles.

Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, on Friday called for the immediate release of the five remaining detainees, who are becoming known as the “Beijing+20 Five” because their detentions came ahead of the 20th anniversary of a United Nations-sponsored conference on women, attended by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the first lady, on the outskirts of Beijing.

“The continued detention of the Beijing+20 Five reminds us that women’s rights cannot advance when other basic human rights are denied,” Ms. Power said in a statement. “Moreover, men and women alike will suffer when the worthy desire of individuals to address pressing social problems is stifled under the false banner of ‘creating a disturbance.’”

Detentions and arrests of rights advocates soared last year amid a clampdown on China’s already heavily constrained civil society by the ruling Communist Party. The number of rights advocates detained in 2014 was almost equal to the combined numbers for the previous two years,Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an American-based coalition of rights organizations, said in a report released this month.

The 16 detainees were released starting late Friday evening and into the predawn hours of Saturday in Beijing, Ms. Ye said Saturday morning.

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