Young Activists Go Missing in China, Raising Fears of Crackdown

Nov 11, 2018
Young Activists Go Missing in China, Raising Fears of Crackdown
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Cover image: Zhang Shengye

By Javier C. Hernández

BEIJING — At least a dozen young activists who took part in a national campaign for workers’ rights in China are missing, friends said on Sunday, in what appeared to be an effort by the government to silence one of the most visible student protests in years.

Unidentified men in at least five Chinese cities rounded up the activists, who are recent graduates of elite universities, over the past few days, according to friends of the activists. The men beat several activists before pushing them into cars and driving away, the friends said.

The activists, describing themselves as ardent communists who fervently believe in the ideals of Marx and Mao, have waged an unusual campaign against inequality and corporate greed that has gained traction at some of China’s top schools.

The campaign has put the ruling Communist Party, which prides itself as a socialist guardian of workers’ rights, in an awkward position. Now, in line with President Xi Jinping’s efforts to curtail dissent and political organizing, the party appears to be redoubling efforts to quash the movement.

Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said the crackdown would provide “another bad image” for China’s leaders, noting that they once seemed more tolerant of labor activism.

“We call on the authorities to immediately release the students and supporters, and allow an independent investigation of what is happening to them,” Mr. Poon said.

It was unclear what happened to the activists, who were rounded up in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan. Calls to the police on Sunday were not immediately answered.

In Beijing, students at Peking University said that unidentified men arrived on campus around 10 p.m. Friday in pursuit of Zhang Shengye, a recent graduate of the school who was a prominent voice in the activists’ campaign. Mr. Zhang had been organizing efforts to find activists who were previously detained by the authorities but whose locations are unknown, students said.

Mr. Zhang was beaten and dragged into a car, said Yu Tianfu, 22, a history student at Peking University who was studying in a nearby cafe.

Mr. Yu said in a social media post on Sunday that he was also hurt in the episode. He said that the men had thrown him to the ground, covered his mouth and kicked his head.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this?” Mr. Yu said he asked the men.

“I’ll beat you more if you dare shout again,” one of the men responded, according to Mr. Yu. Reached by phone on Sunday, Mr. Yu said he stood by his account but declined to comment further. In his post, he said he was still in disbelief.

Reposted from the New York Times: