Zhang Zhiru 张治儒Comments Off on Zhang Zhiru 张治儒
Zhang Zhiru 张治儒
Criminal charge: Gathering a crowd to disrupt social order
Length of Punishment: Three years, suspended for four years
Court: Shenzhen Bao’an District Court
Trial Date: April 24, 2020
Sentencing Date: April 24, 2020
Dates of Detention/Arrest: January 20, 2019 (detention); February 26, 2019 (formal arrest); May 7, 2020 (released)
Place of Incarceration: Bao’an District Detention Center (Shenzhen, Guangdong Province); Shenzhen No. 2 Detention Center (October 22, 2019-May 7, 2020)
Police detained Zhang Zhiru (real name Zhang Zhiyu 张治余), a leading labor activist, in Guangdong on January 20, 2019 as part of a coordinated action that day targeting four other individuals who work with labor rights NGOs or advocate for labor rights. When he was taken into custody, Zhang was serving as the director of Shenzhen Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre (深圳市春风劳动争议服务部), and police reportedly seized him from his office. The detention of the five labor activists was part of an escalation of the Chinese government’s repression of such activists, particularly in Guangdong, where workers’ movements in China’s industrial hub have become increasingly “politically-sensitive,” in particular after a strike and subsequent crackdown on workers and their supporters at a Shenzhen-based Jasic Technology factory. The detainees were not known to have been involved in that incident.
The four others seized the same day as Zhang were the labor activist Wu Guijun (吴贵军), two former staff members of Zhang’s NGO, Jian Hui (简辉) and Song Jiahui (宋佳慧), as well as He Yuancheng (何远程), a one-time legal assistant at Guangdong Workers Protection Law Firm (广东劳维律师事务所). Four of the men were detained in Guangdong, while Jian was taken into custody in Hunan Province. Song Jiahui previously had worked at the Lide Shoe factory in Guangzhou, where he led co-workers as the elected labor representative in a successful collective bargaining case in 2015. He Yuancheng had trained workers on their legal rights while working at the law firm and later edited Collective Bargaining Forum (中国集体谈判论坛). Though the timing of the detentions and the crime specified (“gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”) appeared to be coordinated, it is still unclear if the cases of all five are related. Three of the detentions, including Zhang’s, appear to be tied to Chenfeng center, but He Yuancheng has been questioned by police about a 2014 collective action. Jian, who has been granted two visits with his lawyer, has been interrogated about the Chenfeng center, including its funding sources, and Zhang Zhiru’s role. Prosecutors sent Jian Hui’s case back for further investigation on July 3, 2019. All five are being held at at Bao’an District Detention Center in Shenzhen.
On February 26-27, 2019, police informed the families of Zhang, Wu, and He that the three had been formally arrested on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order,” and it is believed that Jian and Song also were arrested for the same offense at the same time. Zhang Zhiru’s family only received verbal notice from the police that Zhang was suspected of a crime; they have not received formal notices indicating that he had been criminally detained or formally arrested. Zhang has been granted at least two meetings with his lawyer, on May 28 and July 4, though the lawyer has made several more requests that had been denied.
According to a post from Zhang, authorities accused him of organizing and directing a 40,000 workers’ strike in Dongguan Yuyuan Shoe Factory in April 2014. They also accused him of planning and organizing a strike at Gongming Street Sanitation Stationin Bao’an District in July 2014, which “disrupted traffic order and caused serious economic losses at Gongming Sanitation Station.”
On May 7, 2020, all five labor defenders returned home following a secret trial and conviction which their families were not given any notification about. Zhang and Wu Guijun received three-year prison sentences, suspended for four years. Jian Hui, Song Jiahui and He Yuancheng receieved 18-month sentences, suspended for two years. Authorities released the five activists on April 24 but forced them into a 14-day quarantine upon their release, which they did not notify the families of, and the five did not return home until May 7. According to Zhang, Songgang Street, Baoan District is handling his receiving community corrections punishment. He is under probation and social correction period until May 6, 2024.
Born in 1974 in Hunan Province, Zhang Zhiru has been one of the most prominent labor activists in Shenzhen. After working on construction sites and assembly lines in his home province for many years, Zhang founded the Shenzhen Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre in 2007. The center has focused on spreading legal information and providing legal assistance to workers. It was involved in numerous labor disputes during the 2010s, guiding thousands of workers through collective bargaining with their employers. For example, in 2014, the Chunfeng center helped assist Yue Yuen shoe factory workers in a strike in Dongguan and Zhang was briefly detained. In 2011, Zhang ran as an independent candidate in his local People’s Congress election in Shenzhen, leading to police harassment against him and his campaign supporters. Officials in Shenzhen fined the NGO in 2009 for allegedly underpaying taxes over the previous three years; Zhang viewed this punishment as arbitrary enforcement of financial rules, since the NGO had been banned by the Shenzhen City Bureau of Civil Affairs in 2006 after being unable to officially register. While Zhang and the Chunfeng center faced obstacles and harassment, he and the organization operated in the previously more open space for NGOs before Xi Jinping took power. They were profiled in positive terms in the state-run media outlet Global Times in 2014, and Zhang himself was recognized in 2011 as the Public Welfare Person of the Year in Guangzhou by the magazine South Reviews (《南风窗》).