Beijing ramps up crackdown on labour activists

Mar 28, 2019
Beijing ramps up crackdown on labour activists
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Three Chinese activists from a labour news website have been detained in southern China as Beijing ramps up a crackdown on labour activism across the country.

Yang Zhengjun, the editor-in-chief of news outlet New Generation, was detained in January while Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing, two other editors from the same publication, were taken away last week.

“It feels like the situation in China is becoming increasingly tense and the authorities are coming down very harshly on an increasingly broad array of people,” said Zheng Churan, Wei’s wife who is also a member of China’s “Feminist Five”, a prominent group of women detained for organising a campaign against sexual harassment on public transport in 2015.

The detentions are the latest move by Chinese authorities to clamp down on labour activism around the country. This came to a head in July when authorities detained 29 workers and activists who tried to form their own union at a factory belonging to Jasic Technology, a welding equipment manufacturer, in the largest mass arrest of labour protesters in three years.

The factory workers’ plight inspired students from several of China’s most prestigious universities to travel to southern China to agitate with the workers. A total of 43 people connected to the Jasic case remain in detention.

An additional five labour activists who were protesting over separate issues were also detained in late January in three cities across southern China on the charge of “gathering and disrupting public order”, labour rights organisations say.

Mr Wei was able to meet his lawyer for the first time today, his wife Ms Zheng said. She said he was being detained because of his work advocating for the rights of migrant workers who, while helping to build some of China’s megacities, contracted silicosis, a lung-destroying, potentially fatal disease afflicting millions of workers in China.

Reporters Without Borders denounced the three activists’ detentions on Thursday, saying there were no grounds for their arrests and their work made an important contribution to the Chinese public’s access to information.

“My husband just wants to help workers, he hasn’t done anything wrong but still he has been detained and lost his freedom, it’s devastating,” Ms Zheng said. The Financial Times was unable to contact the family or lawyers of Mr Yang and Mr Ke.

Separately, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu was taken away by police on Wednesday night outside the US embassy in Beijing as she was on her way to attend a seminar on how to use the law to combat domestic violence. She was released after being detained for several hours, according to a tweet from her husband, Bao Longjun.

Ms Wang was the first detained in China’s crackdown on the so-called “709” lawyers, a reference to the day in July 2015 when Chinese authorities began rounding up about 250 legal rights activists.

“The authorities have become much savvier since 709 and now round up activists and lawyers in dribs and drabs, rather than all at once. This way, it attracts less media attention and international outcry,” said a source in the southern city of Guangzhou who closely follows labour rights.

Reposted from Financial Times: