Chinese Feminist, Anti-Camps Campaigner Honored With Rights Prize

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Originally published by RFA on March 12, 2021

Detained women’s rights activist Li Qiaochu and veteran rights campaigner Li Yufeng have been announced as the joint winners of a prestigious human rights prize made annually to Chinese activists mark the March 14, 2014 death in police custody of rights advocate Cao Shunli.

Since Cao’s death in a police-run detention center in Beijing after being repeatedly denied adequate medical treatment, March 14 is marked as China’s human rights day, the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders network said in a statement on its website.

“The award has been given to those who carry on Cao Shunli’s legacy of grassroots human rights advocacy despite the threats from government reprisals, who promote human rights and made great efforts to hold the government accountable for its rights violations,” CHRD said.

Li Yufeng, 63, told RFA following her release from Zhengzhou Women’s Prison on Feb. 21 that she had been violently mistreated during her time there, and had protested by refusing food on several occasions.

“I have been locked up in the women’s prison for more than two years, where I couldn’t get hot water to bathe in; I could only get cold,” Li told RFA shortly after her release.

“On my third day there, they put me in a straitjacket and hung me from a window frame; my feet didn’t reach the ground,” she said.

Li, a veteran petitioner since her house was forcibly demolished by the authorities in 2000, has been subjected to continual harassment, illegal detention and other restrictions, partly linked to her advocacy on behalf of other petitioners.

Her release last month came after she spent six years behind bars for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge often used to target critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

She told RFA she has no intention of giving up her struggles.

“I am even more determined to follow this path, because I can see the darkness in China,” Li said. “So many rights defenders have trodden it before me; it’s because of them that I have to go on.”

According to CHRD, Li has also actively campaigned for the abolition of “re-education through labor”, a  now-defunct system of administrative detention, and taken part in annual memorials for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

Also targeted in retaliation

Li Qiaochu, 30, is also a long-term campaigner against gender-based violence and for labor rights.

She was detained on Feb. 6, and is currently being held at the Linyi municipal detention center in the eastern province of Shandong.
Her detention came after she posted details of torture allegations by her partner, the detained rights activist Xu Zhiyong, and lawyer Ding Jiaxi, to social media.

Li Qiaochu, like Cao Shunli before her, is likely being targeted in retaliation for her engagement with United Nations human rights mechanisms, CHRD said.

In 2017, Li Qiaochu volunteered to provide information and resources to affected migrant workers when Beijing authorities forcibly removed them from the city, it said.

She also boosted the visibility of China’s #MeToo movement by compiling data on sexual harassment, and campaigned against a culture of long hours in the workplace.

The Cao Shunli Memorial Award acknowledges the efforts of human rights defenders in China who have demonstrated a deep commitment to promoting human rights, typically in the face of great personal risk, CHRD said.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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