Detained Feminists’ Loved Ones Plead for No Charges in China

Apr 03, 2019
Detained Feminists’ Loved Ones Plead for No Charges in China
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Zheng Churan, the jailed women’s rights advocate, loved rabbits as a child, earning the nickname “Little Rabbit” from friends and family.

So when Ms. Zheng, now 25, grew up, they began calling her “Big Rabbit.” It is how Ms. Zheng, a graduate of Sun Yat-sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou, is known to many supporters in China and abroad who are following her fate as Chinese prosecutors decide whether to charge her and four other feminists with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” The women were detained for planning to distribute stickers and leaflets warning about sexual harassment on public transportation on International Women’s Day, which is March 8.

The case has drawn worldwide attention and expressions of support for the women, including from the European Union, the British Foreign Office and the American secretary of state, John Kerry. It has also unsettled the United Nations, which is planning to host with China a summit meeting in New York in September to observe the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995.

At an event in Beijing on Sunday to promote the United Nations’ new gender equality initiative, HeForShe, Roberta Clarke, the Asia director for U.N. Women, said, “We’re following the situation closely and look forward to seeing a resolution soon.”

According to the women’s lawyers, on Monday, after 37 days in detention in Beijing, prosecutors must decide whether to bring formal charges. The Public Security Bureau, which is holding the women in the Haidian district detention center, has already recommended charges — and family and friends say they are in an agony of suspense. And outrage.

In a letter to the state prosecutor’s office in Haidian district delivered late last week, 10 relatives and partners of the women pleaded with officials not to charge them. Saying that most of the women’s families were never even notified by the police that their daughters, wives or partners had been detained, they wrote:

On April 9, we heard that the case had already been sent to your esteemed prosecutor’s office on April 6, with a request for the formal arrest of all five women who were detained around International Women’s Day. Before this, only Zheng Churan’s family had been notified of her detention. The Public Security Bureau did not issue any formal notice at all of the detentions of the four other women. We are astonished, puzzled and indignant at this, and the pain in our hearts is hard to express!

They continued:

The five women are our daughters, wives, companions. They are young, good, law-abiding and socially responsible citizens. And they share a common identity as feminists who actively support our country’s national policy on gender by devoting themselves to and advocating women’s rights.

They added:

Given the reality of our fine historical tradition, the reality of sexual harassment in society, and our laws and policies, we firmly believe that the ideas and actions of our five relatives in no way violated national policy or laws.

Ms. Zheng’s boyfriend and parents both signed, according to the boyfriend, Wei Zhili. Portions of the letter that had been posted to Sina Weibo on Sunday had been deleted by midday on Monday.

In a social media message, Mr. Wei wrote that he was “pretty down.”

“It’s been up and down for me the whole time,” he said late Sunday night in a written interview, as the seconds ticked toward midnight and the deadline for charging or releasing the women approached.

“I’m worried. But I’m fully convinced that everything they did was legal. They have done no wrong,” said Mr. Wei, 26, who said he works on labor issues, lives in Guangzhou and is self-employed.

He declined to provide many specifics, saying, “I hope you can understand.” In China, such caution is almost always the result of fear of persecution by the authorities.

For several years, the women and hundreds of others around the country have staged often lighthearted, imaginative public actions, such as occupying men’s restrooms or dancing outside a courtroom to support a domestic violence victim inside.

Mr. Wei attributed the authorities’ reaction this time to China’s worsening economy.

“I think it’s very likely tied to China’s economic situation,” he said. “The economy is slipping, so they have to increase social control.”

The World Bank has predicted that Chinese growth will slip to 7.1 percent in 2015 from 7.4 percent last year. Others say it may fall below 7 percent. Lower economic growth may mean more social unrest as dissatisfied citizens challenge the state’s economic and social policies, analysts say.

Ms. Zheng, a dynamic woman with red-rimmed eyeglasses, a quick smile and glossy black hair, has an impact on everyone she meets, Mr. Wei said.

“People who met her for the first time felt her liveliness,” he said. “They knew what a feminist activist was.”

“But there’s another side to her. She’s often quite reflective, and is never satisfied with what she’s achieved,” he said, even though Ms. Zheng is regarded as one of China’s most effective young advocates of women’s rights. Her regular emails alerting activists and reporters to gender equality issues and protests against discrimination were popular, often providing reporters with material for stories.

After such a long wait since the five women’s detention, and with deadlines for their release passing, Mr. Wei’s hopes that Ms. Zheng will be freed are slim, he said.

But still, he said, referring to the letter to the prosecutors, “We have to try.”

Reposted from The New York Times: