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China detains 5 feminist activists on eve of International Women’s Day #WTFnews

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site. 

Brace yourself for the irony:  #Beijing20 is trending on Twitter in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing (when Hillary Clinton delivered her “women’s rights are human rights” speech.) But right before International Women’s Day 2015, police across China detained vocal, young Chinese feminist activists.

Maizi

Li Tingting (Li Maizi) protests against the misogynistic 2015 Chinese New Year Gala, wearing a shirt that says, “This is what a feminist looks like” in Chinese. (Photo courtesy of anonymous friend)

On the evening of March 6, 2015, leaders of the Chinese feminist community were taken into police custody or put under house arrest in at least three Chinese cities: Beijing, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou. Police detained these feminists, who are all in their 20s or early 30s, on the grounds of “creating disturbance” (寻衅滋事.) According to the accounts by friends and colleagues, police broke into their apartments without arrest warrants. In addition to detaining at least ten activists, the police confiscated their phones, laptops, and other means of communication and documentation of activism. As of Sunday evening (March 8) Beijing time, five feminists remain in detention with no contact with the outside world or access to their attorneys.

Why were they detained?

The feminists had planned to publicly rally against sexual harassment on buses in Beijing and Guangzhou for International Women’s Day. The charge under which they were detained, “creating disturbance,” has been repeatedly used by the Chinese state to detain, arrest, or harass civil rights lawyersliberal intellectuals, and civil society/human rights activists during recent months of intensified censorship and crackdown on civil liberties.

In November 2014, since Zheng Churan (Datu) was denied exit by the Chinese customs, her friend carried a large photo of Zheng and protested on Zheng’s behalf  at the Beijing+20 CSO Forum in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo courtesy of Zheng’s weibo)

In November 2014, since Zheng Churan (Datu) was denied exit by the Chinese customs, her friend carried a large photo of Zheng and protested on Zheng’s behalf at the Beijing+20 CSO Forum in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo courtesy of Zheng’s weibo)

Some commentators speculate that the “Two Sessions” underway (the Chinese legislature’s annual meeting) might explain why the feminists were taken into police custody, and expect that they will be released once the legislative sessions are adjourned. If we accept such analysis, which has validity in the Chinese one-party system that prioritizes stability above all else, the absurdity is beyond comprehension. On the one hand, Chinese state media celebrates women legislators and new anti-domestic violence legislation, which are both important; on the other, the state is so afraid of young, vocal feminists that they must be detained right before International Women’s Day, so as to assure the smooth running of national legislative sessions.

Who are the feminists detained by the police?

LI Tingting (李婷婷, pseudo-name Li Maizi, 李麦子) is a Beijing-based young leader for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights advocacy. She works for Beijing Yirenping Center, “a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting social justice and public health” that battles disease- and disability-related employment discrimination. Li has been the leader of campaigns to raise awareness on domestic violence, gender discrimination, and homophobia in China. The pinned post on her weibo (a popular Chinese micro-blogging site similar to Twitter) accountbefore the detention commemorates the third anniversary of “Occupy the Men’s Room,” a provocative campaign advocating for unisex restrooms in urban China.

Waiting

Wei Tingting holds a sign that says, “Because of love, zero tolerance of discrimination against AIDS patients.” (Photo courtesy of anonymous friend)

WEI Tingting (韦婷婷, nicknamed Waiting) is a Beijing-based advocate for public health, LGBTQ rights, and AIDS awareness. She works for Beijing Gender Health Education Institute (BJGHEI), an NGO focusing on the “issues of gender, sexuality and sexual health” in China. Her last post on her weibo account, dated March 5, says, “is it a good idea or not, to put oneself in a place of danger?”

ZHENG Churan (郑楚然, pseudo-name Datu or “giant rabbit”, 大兔) is a Guangzhou-based, 25-year-old feminist activist. She has publicly protested against sexual assault on college campus, employment discrimination against women, and the fact that rape of Chinese girls is considered “prostitution” rather than rape. In November 2014, Zheng was set to attend the Asia Pacific Civil Society Organization (CSO) Forum on Beijing +20 but was denied exit at the Chinese custom. (See photo) Her personal profile on her weibo account says, “The comments that make one uncomfortable are helpful tools that prompt one to leave one’s safety zone.”

WU Rongrong (武嵘嵘) is a feminist working for a Hangzhou-based women’s advocacy group. She has been active since 2005 and has worked on legal cases addressing violence against women in China. Her health is in bad condition; and her family has been trying, but so far has failed, to deliver medicine into police custody.

WANG Man (王曼) is a Beijing-based feminist. Her weibo handle says ,“Wang Man [dedicated to] eliminating poverty.” She has publicly spoken against gender discrimination in Chinese college admissions and has long been an advocate for women’s economic empowerment.

What will happen to these feminists? What will happen to Chinese feminist activism?

The feminists’ lawyers have been trying to locate them in the past 48 hours. The police have denied that they have detained them. According to their lawyers, these feminists might be “interrogated three times a day,” sometimes “with late-night or even all-nighter interrogations” which “are the most frightening.” Since they have been missing for more than two days now, the level of danger they face is considered “elevated” by the feminist community.

Wu Rongrong (left) and Wang Man (right) were both detained by police in Hangzhou and Beijing respectively. (Photo courtesy of anonymous friend)

Wu Rongrong (left) and Wang Man (right) were both detained by police in Hangzhou and Beijing respectively. (Photo courtesy of anonymous friend)

Many Chinese feminists have written in their personal wechat (a popular Chinese mobile text and social media) platform, “This is a day marked by humiliation and sorrow.” While it is hardly surprising that women’s rights would fall short in a country where civil liberties are at risk, this is a day that should anger feminists across the globe. Chinese women, more than 600 million in number, make up about one tenth of humanity. This is a day marked by humiliation and sorrow for all of us.

Li (left) and Wei (right) dress up in bloodstained wedding gowns to raise awareness on domestic violence in China. Their signs: “Why are you still silent about intimate  violence around you?” and “Love is not an excuse for violence”. (Source: artintern.net)

Li (left) and Wei (right) dress up in bloodstained wedding gowns to raise awareness on domestic violence in China. Their signs: “Why are you still silent about intimate violence around you?” and “Love is not an excuse for violence”. (Source: artintern.net)

How can a feminist ally inside or outside of China help?

  1. Spread the wordshare the news coverage and these Feministing profiles of the Chinese activists.
  2. If you speak Mandarin Chinese and/or are based in China, please call the police bureaus. The Beijing bureaus (where Li, Wei and Wang are detained) can be reached at +86-10-82588210/82519110 (海淀, Haidian bureau) or +86-10-62275110/62210111 (太平庄, Taipingzhuang bureau)
  3. Protest and speak out against sexual harassment, since the missing feminists were planning to do so themselves on International Women’s Day, which might have led to their detention.
  4.  SIGN PETITION HERE“  ASKING

    Chinese Government to Release them Immediately!

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