Directors went missing: NGOs under attack due to assisting workers affected by factory closures

Stand News, 4 December 2015

Photo Caption: Chen Huihai spoke of “remedies for workers’ representatives under suppression” at a conference on protective mechanisms for workers’ representatives. He elaborates that what his services centre could interfere when a workers’ representative has been under attack, which include joniing workers’ voices to demand release at the police station, informing and comforting the representative’s family, appointing a lawyer to meet the representative, seeking help from media and etc. (Source: from the blog of Haige Workers’ Services Centre)

Many labour rights NGOs in Guangdong Province have suddenly been “raided” by police recently. Some of the directors of these NGOs went missing and at the time of writing, their whereabouts remain unknown. Director of Haige Workers’ Services Centre, Chen Huihai had told the media that these abductions meant to suppress the labour NGOs and were led by the municipal police, before he lost contacts with the media.

Safeguarding workers’ rights intensified their conflicts with local governments

According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a new wave of detentions targeting labour NGOs in Guangdong, after the detention of Liu Shaoming, a labour rights activist in Guangdong on 30 May, has started. In recent years, the frequent factory closures in Guangdong have forced a vast number of workers to join the army of “rights defenders”.  Labour NGOs, whose mandate is to assist workers, provide them legal advice in tripartite negotiations between workers, employers and governments, have been involved in more and more conflicts with local governments.

As reported by Radio Free Asia, in the morning of December 3, numerous police officers came to Haige Workers’ Services Centre (previously the workers’ training department of Guangdong Laowai Law Firm) in Panyu District of Guangzhou City and took away  the centre’s staff Bin Xue and He Bing, two visiting workers Huang Dongmei and Cheng Neng Wen. Another staff, Deng Xiaoming was also captured when he returned to the office.

Many remain missing

At the same time, directors and staff members of Panyu Migrant Workers Documentation Centre and Sunflower Women Workers Center, Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei, Luo Hongmei and Peng Jiayong also lost contacts with others. Reporter at Radio Free Asia contacted Chen Feihai at about 2pm on December 3. Chen was hiding in a hotel but expecting the police would detain him soon. He described that since November, his right to leave the country had been restricted and he believed this crackdown would be targeting all labour NGOs.

“I got it confirmed half hour ago. They (the police) are expanding the seizure to all. Staff members of all our four offices were under surveillance. Today I went to gather some business information from the district government. Luckily I am not yet captured. But I guess I can’t walk far before they catch me. I am hiding in a hotel but with their surveillance facilities, I can’t escape. They have just made it clear that they would detain me, saying ‘you don’t need to run because you can’t’.”

“Financial Embezzlement” as the reason for detention

An hour later, when the reporter tried to call Chen Huihai again and found his phone was off. He called again the Fuhua Police Station and an officer confirmed that Bin Xue and others were kept in the police station. Yet, s/he refused to give the reasons of the detentions or comment when they would be released, and later reflected that police station was not in charge of these detentions and suggested the reporter to contact criminal police or the state security teams.

Radio Free China later reported that four detainees from Haige Workers’ Services Centres were released, after giving testimonies at the Fuhua Police Station. However, the others remain unheard. Simultaneously, He Xiaobo, director of another labour NGO Nan Feiyan in Fushan City was forcibly abducted by the police, for a so-called charge of “financial embezzlement”.

Sources: Radio Free Asia, Chinese Human Rights Defenders and BBC Chinese site