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.
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.
[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:
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:
[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:
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.