Feminist activists detained ahead of International Women’s Day
On International Women’s Day, activists from both China and Hong Kong organized campaign programmes to fight against sexual harassment. The Women’s Committee of the HKCTU hosted a press conference and taught self-defence on the streets. However, five feminist activists in China, Wang Man, Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wu Rongrong and Zheng Churan, were detained by the Chinese police and sent to a detention centre in Beijing on the Eve of International Women’s Day. They were detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after planning a multi-city protest aimed at bringing an end to sexual harassment on public transport. They were then cut off from the world and even their families and lawyers could not contact them. The Women’s Committee of the HKCTU, the Association for the Advancement of Feminism and Amnesty International then launched a series of solidarity actions, prior to their release on 13 April 2015. This case, known internationally as that of the “Feminist Five”, has shocked the world. Yet, what impact does it have on the feminist movement and the labour movement in China and Hong Kong? How do the organizations which advocated for their release see it? This quarterly would like to look into the details.
Wu Guijun, a labour activist who was detained for a year due to his participation in a strike, told us that he personally would not be held back by this kind of crackdown but grassroots workers may be affected. “Workers tend to have a sense of fear. Local governments often use such tricks to suppress labour activists and workers’ representatives, as they are not held legally accountable while they can lock you up for 37 days.” How then should workers deal with such a brutal law enforcement and juridical system? Wu believes, “a lawyers’ network is essential to back workers’ collective actions up. Lawyers have to stand up, provide support when things go wrong. Workers must be very scared when they are first locked up and under the current system only lawyers can get in touch with detained workers.”
Apart from the support of lawyers, civil society’s voices and actions, inside and outside China, have played a significant role in the Feminist Five’s case. “This incident illustrates the importance of international solidarity among feminist organizations. Seeing many global organizations joining our petition campaign to call for their release within only a few days, we felt very empowered. I respect the Feminist Five’s courage and the bravery the mainland Chinese supporters showed.” said Luk Kit-ling, chairwoman of the Association for the Advancement of Feminism.
Laiha Cheung, vice-chairwomen of the HKCTU and member of the Women’s Committee said it was an undeniable responsibility to support the Chinese feminist activists. “We are rather lucky in Hong Kong. We have not encountered too much suppression when fighting for women’s rights. Thus, we have to support our fellow feminists, to care about Chinese women’s rights and defend human rights together.”
Campaign picture to free the five feminists. Source: Free Chinese Feminists Facebook
While the Feminist Five have been released, the charges against them remain. This means that they could be detained and criminalized at any time. In other words, our quest is not yet over, we have to continue campaigning until their charges are dropped.