Labour Activist Meng Han Unjustly Sentenced to 21 months in Prison
Among other Chinese labour activists who were detained in late 2015, Meng Han was the last to be tried. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison on 3 November 2016 in the Panyu District Court, Guangzhou. As he has been detained since 3 December 2015, he is expected to serve 10 more months in prison and be released on 2 September 2017. A tough guy from Hubei Province, Meng has been jailed twice as a labour activist. In 2013, he was detained for nine months for participating a collective labour action at his workplace. Now, he is serving sentence again for being an organizer in a labour organization.
During the past 11 months of detention, he faced harsh torture. He was once interrogated for 13 days consecutively and only allowed to sleep for some two hours per day. The authority did everything to force him to pledge guilty but his belief was not to be undermined easily. He insisted that being an organizer of a labour organization, it is within his legitimate rights to assist workers to safeguard their rights and help them to solve labour disputes. During his first detention in 2013, he wrote, “I could be poor, lonely, or even be killed, but I cannot live without dignity.” This belief helped him survive the psychological torture from the authority. His family has also been continuously harassed, under police surveillance and forced to relocate from their residence. Yet, Meng refused to confess, as he was determined that he did nothing wrong.
Meng has always been a worker. In his early years, he worked at the Yangtze River Administration Bureau of Yichang City. After he was retrenched, he started to work as a security guard at No.1 Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2010. In 2013, he participated in a collective labour action with other security guards in the hospital and was elected as the “chief representative” in the negotiation with the management. However, he was then dismissed and sentenced to nine-month imprisonment. At his defence speech in court, he insisted, “I was honoured to be elected as a workers’ representative and their chief negotiator. From that moment on, I knew that my responsibility is to closely work with the workers and face the challenges together.”
His experience made him realize that Chinese workers often found themselves entirely helpless and unorganized when their rights were exploited. Thus, after his release, he joined the Panyu Migrant Workers Services Centre to continue his fight for workers’ rights on the front line. During the labour disputes in Lide Shoe Factory in 2014 and 2015, he promoted workers’ bargaining capacity by assisting them to elect their representatives, provide union education and help raise strike fund. In the end, the workers were successful in their pursue of the repayment of high temperature subsidies, missing social insurance premiums, housing provident fund and severance pay due to the production plan relocation. Yet, the authority considered Meng’s good deeds as criminal offences and charged him with "gathering crowds to disrupt public order", as an attempt to stigmatize and criminalize the workers’ peaceful and rational stuggle.
In order to cover up the unlawfulness of this arbitrary detention, the Chinese Government pulled all her tricks to persuade Meng to plead guilty. When Meng refused to cooperate, they handed him a severe sentence as retaliation and a warning to other workers and activists. With Meng being sentenced for upholding labour rights once again, righteous labour activists are now facing unprecedented challenges in gaining a foothold in China.