The families of five women's rights activists, who were detained after planning to protest against sexual harassment in public transportation, have received notice of bail pending trial.
According to one of their lawyers, Liang Xiaojun, the five, as suspects of a crime, will be under surveillance for a year and their rights, such as the ability to travel abroad, will still be curtailed. The police can detain them again at any time or interrogate them further.
Zheng Churan, Wang Man, Li Tingting, Wei Tingting and Wu Rongrong were arrested in March ahead of the International Women's Day.
The police attempted to press charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, for which the maximum penalty is five years in prison. International feminist circles have been campaigning for over a month for their release.
The current situation indicates a conflict between the police authorities and the prosecutors. Michigan University Professor Wang Zheng, an active member of the campaign, commented (via Facebook Group Free Chinese Feminists):
In the Chinese context, this is the first time that a group of detained social activists are released all at once. This decision suggests: one, the unprecedented huge mobilization of global feminist and other non-governmental organizations’ support is effective. The massive grassroots based petitions not only pushed their own respective state politicians to respond, it also demonstrated clearly to the Chinese government that this petition is not instigated by a nation- based political enemy, but by a global political force – transnational feminists and other grassroots organizations for social justice and equality. This global political force cannot be suppressed by the Chinese state, or any national state. And no nation state should treat this global political force as its enemy. That would be too foolish.
Two, the Chinese government is not a monolithic entity and the decision is a compromise among different political factions or state branches. It can be imagined how ferocious the contentions behind the scenes were over how to handle this hot potato in their hands. The final compromise shows clearly that there were officials in the system who pushed very hard towards a positive solution.
She stressed that:
As long as non-governmental organizations’ activism for advocating and implementing laws relating to gender equality or any other issue is defined as criminal, there will be no safe zone for feminists as well as activists working in other realms for social justice. Thus, our efforts cannot stop here with the release of the five.
As the Global Summit for Women is approaching, the professor urges the United Nations to take steps to free the five from political persecution.
The battle is not yet over, as the activist network Free Chinese Feminists has warned. Social media hashtags for the campaign are: #FreeTheFive #FreeChineseFeminists #FreeBeijing20Five