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One Month on, China Ignores International Calls for Release of Detained Feminist Activists

Free the Five by Badiucao. Via China Digital Times

Free the Five by Badiucao. Via China Digital Times

More than a month has passed since five feminist activists, who planned to protest against sexual harassment in public transportation ahead of International Woman's Day, were detained.

One of their lawyers, Yan Xinwen, revealed that the police have reported the case to the Procuratorate of the People's Republic of China seeking official approval for their formal arrest and indictment. The fate of the five will be revealed by April 13, in accordance with Chinese law. [Update April 9, 2015: A New York Times report says the lawyers checked with the prosecutor’s office in the Haidian district of Beijing and found out that no applications had been filed, which means the five activists are now detained illegally as the police are required to file a request for formal arrest with prosecutors within 30 days of the detention of suspects.]

Meanwhile, feminists and human right activists from all over the world continue to demand for the women's release. In an Academic Conference at Brookings Institution on April 3, a number of feminist scholars commented on the arrests. Professor Wang Zheng from University of Michigan pointed out that the last time a Chinese government had arrested a women's right activist was 1913. With Xi Jinping due to visit the US in September, she also called on President Barack Obama to speak up on behalf of the five.

Pressure from US politicians has not made much of a difference so far. After former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the women's detention as “inexcusable” on her Twitter account, China's Foreign Ministry responded with their standard answer that the incident was an internal affair and that other countries had to respect the China's judicial sovereignty.

Despite international outcry, Chinese authorities have extended their crackdown on domestic feminist networks. They've interrogated women who have taken part in flash mobs in the past, such as Occupy Men's Toilets in 2012, and raided the Beijing Yirenping Center, which is a moderate NGO against all forms of discrimination.

Many have wondered why the Chinese government is taking such harsh action toward young activists who have done nothing to challenge the regime. China Director at Human Rights Watch Sophie Richardson described the crackdown as a telling display of “the combination of power and paranoia”.

He Qinglian, a China observer, believed that the arrests are related to a wider crackdown on NGOs in China, in particular those with strong overseas connections:

Upon analyzing all the related material concerning the arrest of the five feminists, their actions did not touch on any political taboos except their advocacy work related to AIDS. Yet against the backdrop of the crackdown on NGOs, they became a testing ground for authorities. See: “NGOs with overseas background are facing a tough winter” http://t.co/lgYXiPNc1W I wish more pressure from the international community could change the situation.

Currently, Beijing is drafting a law on “Management of Overseas NGOs” to prevent NGOs with foreign connections from involvement in political activities. It has been estimated that there are more than 6,000 NGO projects that have overseas connections, and Beijing fears that they could eventually trigger a so-called Color Revolution in China.

Prominent mainland Chinese sexologist Li Yinhe described the current situation as absurd:

男女平等是我国的基本国策,属于主流意识形态,中国在提高妇女地位方面一直属于做得不错的,在全世界100多个国家的评比当中,中国排名很靠前,在第28位。今年两会上,反家暴立法已经被排上议事日程,很快就会出台,中国政府怎么会站在支持性骚扰(反对反性骚扰)的一边呢?这不是太过荒诞的一件事情吗?

Gender equity is our country's national policy and is the mainstream ideology. China has been doing great in lifting women's status and has ranked as high as 28 among the 100 plus countries in [gender equity] ratings. In the two congresses this year, the law against domestic violence was put on the agenda and would be introduced soon. How can the Chinese government align itself against those who fight sexual harassment? Isn't this absurd?

She tried to address the issue from the perspective of the government's concern about stability:

是想把所有的群聚事件消灭在策划阶段是不可能的。中国有13亿人,有几个人在屋子里策划一件事情,准备上街去做,这种事情每时每刻都在发生,如果全都要抓,全都要防范,那行政经费实在难以负担。

It is impossible to eliminate protests in their planning stages. There are 1.3 billion people in China. Things such as a few people sitting together in a house and planning for something in the street take place every minute. If you have to prevent that from happening by arresting them, how much would it cost?

She argued that the government's tactics are actually undermining its desire for stability:

这件事给人的感觉就像蝴蝶效应,在世界的某个角落有一只蝴蝶呼扇了一下翅膀,结果在世界的另一个地方竟演变成一场风暴。太不应当让事情沿着荒诞的方向愈演愈烈。只要把人放了,这场风暴就可以避免。同时,一定要通过这个事件检讨维稳的总体思路和做法,否则只能事倍功半,甚至适得其反:初衷是维稳,结果使社会更加动荡不安。

This is like butterfly effect, a butterfly flaps its wings in one corner of the world and it turns into a storm on the other side of the world. Absurdity evolves by itself and intensifies. Once the five are released, the storm can be prevented. Moreover, it is necessary to evaluate the logic of stability control or else it could turn against its purpose: what you want is stability, but the result is instability and restlessness.

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