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China Harasses Women Activists on the Eve of International Women's Day

At least 7 woman activists were arrested at the eve of the International Women's Day. A collage of photo from "Gender in China" Weibo.

At least 7 women activists were arrested on the eve of the International Women's Day. A collage of photo from Gender in China's Weibo.

A number of Chinese women activists were detained by police on the eve of International Women's Day.

One of the women subsequently released by police, activist Ai Ke revealed that the police were clamping down on an advocacy campaign slated for March 7, which was targeted against sexual harassment on public transportation. The police ensured that no-one took part in the campaign.

News about the arrest of the feminist activists started circulating on China's Twitter-like Weibo service in the early morning of March 7. The Chinese human rights website, Weiquanwang, collected information from various sources and estimated that at least seven young women activists had been arrested in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Guangzhou. The five arrestees from Beijing had lost contact with their friends at the time of publication. Of the two activists detained by Guangzhou police, only one has been confirmed as released.

A Twitter source, @alicedreamss, revealed that several other feminists were interrogated by police in Yunnan.

As the country that hosted the 1995 United Nations’ Fourth World Women Conference and a signatory state to the Beijing Declaration that came out of that conference, the Chinese government has vowed to protect and promote the human rights of women and girls.

Indeed, that very event nourished a generation of women activists who advocate for gender equity and against sexual violence in mainland China. Every year, around International Women's Day, these women have organised campaigns to raise public awareness about gender equality. 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights launched the Beijing + 20 Women Human Rights Defenders Campaign last December to illuminate the work done by women who risk their lives, reputations and families to defend the rights of others.

But instead of upholding the principles of the Beijing Declaration, the Chinese authorities appear to have harassed women advocating against sexual harassment ahead of the most important day in the calendar for gender equality activists.

Li Maizi has been very active in advocating for gender equity. The postcard said: Say no to employment discrimination. Photo from "Gender in China" Weibo.

Li Maizi has been very active in advocating for gender equity. The postcard said: Say no to employment discrimination. Photo from “Gender in China” Weibo.

Gender in China, a feminist group, first released the news via Weibo that Chinese police had arrested three female activists on 6 of March.

Since the web-censor kept deleting their message every five minutes, the group kept re-posting the message again and again throughout March 7.

【妇女节前夕,女权倡导者被北京警方带走】昨晚11点半,长期关注妇女权利的公益人李麦子、徐汀突然在家被警察撬门带走、住处遭搜查,现已失联12小时。另一位倡导者韦婷婷昨日下午被带走后至今失联。据猜测这或与“三八”反性骚扰公益活动有关。难道警察怕的是反性骚扰?呼吁@平安北京 放人!

[On the eve of International Women Day, Beijing police arrested feminist activists] Last night at around 11:30, police broke into the apartment of women's rights defenders Li Maizi and Xu Ting. Their apartment was raided and they were taken away. They have been missing for twelve hours. Another activist Wei Tingting, was taken away [by police] and has been out of touch since yesterday. [The arrest] may be related to the March 8 anti-sexual harassment action. Are the police afraid of advocacy against sexual harassment? Urge @Pingan Beijing [Beijing police's official Weibo account] for their release.

The campaign planned by the activists was simply to post stickers on public transportation in various cities and encourage both victims and passengers to stand up to sexual harassment on March 7. Gender in China displayed the campaign stickers on Weibo:

The stickers encourage the victims and passengers to voice out against sexual harassment and urge the police to take prompt action on the crime.

The stickers encourage victims and passengers to speak out against sexual harassment and urge the police to take prompt action against harassment  on public transport.

It soon became clear that the clampdown on women activists has not limited to the Chinese capital, but had also spread to the metropolises of Yunnan and Guangzhou. Zheng Churan, another women's rights defender, was detained in a hotel.

Weibo user, Liang Xiaomen, who managed to keep in touch with Zheng during her interrogation, posted the details of Zheng's arrest:

【警察怕的是38贴贴贴?!】原定3月7日做倡导公交性骚扰防治机制的活动迎接妇女节,谁知活动参加者之一大兔郑楚然深夜十二点被国宝和片警找,派出所询问两小时后陪同回家,让大兔拿上三八节的防止性骚扰的贴纸后继续带回派出所,据警察说两小时后会放人。贴纸上写的是,制止性骚扰,安全你我她。

[The police are afraid of the March 8 stickers?!] An advocacy action against sexual harassment on public transportation was planned March 7 to celebrate the March 8 Women's Day. One of the participants, Zheng Churan was visited by national security police and local [Guangzhou] police at 12 am on March 7. She was interrogated in the police station for two hours and escorted home. The police asked her to collect all the anti-sexual harassment stickers and bring them back to the police station, then they would release her in two hours. Written on the stickers are slogans: Stop sexual harassment and make sure all of us are safe.

Chinese feminist circles are naturally outraged that activists were repressed so close to International Women's day. Weiquanwang quoted a female netizen:

政府高喊着法制,却没任何手续半夜撬门抓人。面对家暴者、强奸犯倒是能不管就不管。只准我们过女人节女神节女生节这样的消费节,却不让人过维护自身权利的妇女节。

The government keeps propagating ‘rule of law’. But it did not go through any legal procedures when breaking into people's apartment at midnight and having them arrested. When it comes to dealing with crimes related to domestic violence and rape, they are foot-dragging. They only allow us to celebrate women, goddess and girl days that promote consumption. But they don't allow people to celebrate women's day that advocates for women's rights.

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